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« Reply #600 on: September 07, 2012, 03:14:24 PM »

Thanks Marc!

Is the Law of Attraction a Jewish Idea?
Are we really the masters of our own lives?
By Tzvi Freeman

The Law of Attraction is a popular idea that states that a person’s attitude attracts matching happenstance. Pessimism attracts misfortune, while optimism attracts good fortune.

The power of attitude to change the flow of a person’s life is a tacit assumption of much of Torah literature, particularly in that most influential source of common wisdom, the Psalms. “One who trusts in G‑d, kindness surrounds him!”1 “Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G‑d!”2

The sages of the Talmud similarly appear to take this law for granted. For example, in dismissing as useless superstition a folk-omen to determine whether one’s journey will meet with success or doom, the sages advise, “But don’t do it.” Why not? “Because perhaps the omen will be negative, the person will worry, and his fortune will go sour.”3

The Zohar describes this optimism effect in cosmic terms:4

The Lower World is always ready to receive and is called a precious stone. The Upper World only gives it according to its state. If its state is of a bright countenance from below, in the same manner it is shone upon from above; but if it is in sadness, it is correspondingly given judgment. Similarly, it is written, “Serve G‑d with joy!”—because human joy draws another supernal joy. Thus, just as the Lower World is crowned, so it draws from above.

Yet, reading those words, you’ll note a critical distinction between this ancient attitude and the law of attraction. The law of attraction places the human being smack in the center of the universe, pulling all the strings. You create your own reality. Jewish optimism, on the other hand, is based on a faith in a fundamentally beneficent Higher Reality.

Jewish optimism doesn’t create or even attract anything new; it simply pulls back the blinds, opens up the windows and allows the light of day to shine in without distortion. G‑d is good and there’s only one of Him—and therefore all that happens must be essentially good. Our faith that this is so allows it to be visibly so.

A metaphor that might help:Optimism just lets the movie play clearly, in hi-res Think of a video streamed through narrow bandwidth, full of ugly artifacts and audio distortion. Similarly, evil and negative events are distortions of life-giving energy from above. Optimism loosens the constrictions, widens the bandwidth and allows the video to flow through in high resolution with minimal compression and zero information loss. The movie was a good movie all along—but now it looks good as well.

Truthfully, in certain situations, trust in G‑d can flip around the underlying reality as well. On the first verse from the Psalms we cited above, Rabbi Yosef Albo (c. 1380–1444) writes:

This means that even if he is not fit of his own accord, nevertheless, this is how trust in G‑d works, drawing kindness freely upon those who trust.5

Similarly, Rabenu Bachye ibn Pakuda (d. 1340):

One who trusts in G‑d is rewarded by being carried high above affliction—even when it is befitting for such affliction to befall him.6

This is more than allowing a clear signal to enter—rather, it is a reciprocal effect.Sometimes, trusting G‑d can change everything Think of a young child walking through a storm, tightly clutching his father’s hand. No matter how exasperated the father may have been with his child’s behavior a moment ago, those tight little fingers around his own elicit an instinctual response to be big and strong, provide and protect—as Wordsworth described, “The child is the father of the man.” Any vestige of anger has suddenly vanished, replaced by pure compassion. So too, our total reliance on G‑d can work wonders when all else has failed.

When the son of Reb Michel Blinner of Nevel was in mortal danger, he asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the “Tzemach Tzedek,” for a blessing. The Tzemach Tzedek responded, “Awaken the power of trust in G‑d with simple faith that He, blessed be He, will save your son. Thought helps. Think good and it will be good.”

And so it was that Reb Michel’s son was saved.7

Still, none of this makes you the author of your reality. On the contrary, it is your utter surrender to a truth infinitely greater than yourself—a.k.a. G‑d—that effects this change in your reality.

The law of attraction is attractive to human reason—and ego. The kind of optimism that has kept the Jewish People in existence all these millennia is based on neither of these. Rather, it’s firm foundation is a super-rational conviction, one that has proven itself more powerful than any other idea in human history: That life is good, because its Maker is good, and our job in life is to prove it so.

Psalms 32:10

Ibid 40:5

Horayot 12a

Zohar, volume 3, 56a

Ikkarim, maamar 4, end of chapter 46. See also chapter 47.

Rabbeinu Bachya Ben Asher, Kad Hakemach, Bitachon

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaak Schneerson of Lubavitch, Igrot Kodesh (letters), vol. 7, pg. 197

   By Tzvi Freeman   More articles...  |   
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.

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« Reply #601 on: September 10, 2012, 10:17:39 AM »


By Jay Litvin

These were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn't figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I'd been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G-d.

I was and had been feeling distant from Him. A strange feeling for me. Even in my late teens I had been able to connect with Him when I needed to. He always answers my calls. Sometimes I don't even need to call. I just feel his companionship as I journey through life.

But these last months had been lonely. I had been separate from Him, unable even to call out. And I didn't know why.

Just before Yom Kippur, I received an e-mail from a friend. He's not a religious Jew, though we discourse often about G-d and Torah. He's a writer and has a way with words. We also share the same disease, and talk much about our symptoms, history, fears, treatments and aches. There's a special something that happens with people who share the same disease. We never have to worry about boring each other. All our concerns and obsessions about the daily changes in our health or symptoms, our latest internet discoveries about new cures and clinical trials may bore others, but are continuously fascinating to us.

At the end of this email my friend wrote: "Jay, this Yom Kippur, I don't think you should go to shul and ask G-d for forgiveness. This Yom Kippur you should stay home and G-d should come crawling on His knees and beg you to forgive Him for what He's done to you."

When I read these lines I laughed. My friend is a sacrilegious provocateur. He believed what he said, but he mainly wrote those words to shock me. I filed his words, but paid them little attention.

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G-d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G-d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G-d.

I put on my kittel and my tallit and I went to shul. I had received permission from my doctors and rabbi to fast. I beat my chest and listed my sins. I asked forgiveness. And yet, no matter how long the list of sins was, no matter how much I sought forgiveness, I could not find any act so heinous as to deserve the punishment that I felt was being inflicted upon me.

I prayed for G-d's forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we -- He and I -- can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G-d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.
I realized that I was angry at G-d

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerabitity. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G-d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

As I continued my prayers throughout the day, with my anger and inability to forgive foremost in my mind, the words in my prayer book began to transform from pleas for forgiveness to instructions on how to forgive. Could it be that on this Yom Kippur, G-d was teaching me how to forgive Him? Were these words lessons on forgiveness from the Master of Forgiveness?

The instructions seemed clear: Forgive for the sake of forgiveness. Forgive not because there is a reason that you understand (for you may never understand My ways) nor because I deserve it (for the ways that I manifest are often terrible and frightening). Forgive solely out of love, so we can be close once again. Forgive because you, created in My image, are also a forgiver. I created you with that capacity so that always, no matter what happens in your life, you and I can be close, so that you and whomever you love, despite what transpires between you, can always reunite and begin again, clean and pure, ready for a new start.

The message and instructions were there and I began to hear through the prayers G-d speaking to me, reaching out for reconciliation, waiting for my forgiveness, providing instruction on how to forgive Him.

Again I remembered my friend's provocative e-mail. No, G-d was not crawling. But was He begging? Was He beseeching me for forgiveness and reconciliation? Was our unity more important to Him than any sin I had committed against Him or any pain He had inflicted upon me?

Still, I could not do it. Even seeing the extent to which He was reaching out to me, I was incapable of forgiveness. Though I wanted to forgive, on this day of truth, I saw that I could not. What He had done to me remained too terrible, too intentional to forgive.

As the closing Ne'ilah prayer approached, I was in despair. It all seemed hopeless. When I presented my case before my invisible set of internal of judges I carry with me, I was judged right, He guilty. He deserved my distance and rejection and I would stubbornly and righteously continue it.

As the sun began to set I felt completely alone. The loneliness was intolerable.

The feeling reminded me of times when I argue with my wife. We fight about some injustice or hurt that has occurred. I present my case before my internal judges and I am proven right. I withdraw in righteousness, punish her with rejection and distance. Sometimes it will last a few hours, sometimes a couple of days. But finally, the loneliness sets in. The distance becomes unbearable. The withdrawal demands an end. My desire for reconciliation and reunification overpowers any need to be right or to punish. And so, without needing to even speak about what it was we were fighting about, eventually we forgive each other so that we can be together again, loving again, carrying on our lives and relationship and family in good will and with a fresh start. We don't forgive because of any reason, nor out of our acceptance of each other's human pettiness or frailty or imperfection. We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite. Simply so we can be together again. So that things will be the way they should.
We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G-d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we -- G-d and I -- could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G-d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

I don't want anger and blame to ruin any moment of my life nor rend me from the unity with which G-d has created the world and that only I have the power to destroy.

Thankfully, G-d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

By Jay Litvin   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website

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« Reply #602 on: September 13, 2012, 11:15:33 AM »

What Makes Rosh Hashanah Beautiful

« Last Edit: September 13, 2012, 11:18:16 AM by Rachel » Logged
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« Reply #603 on: September 14, 2012, 06:53:04 AM »

Dip Your Apple - Fountainheads Rosh Hashanah

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« Reply #604 on: September 14, 2012, 07:35:41 AM »

Hey Rachel:

Any suggested readings about Rosh Hashanah so I can sound semi-informed when I explain in to my children (31 and 10)?
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« Reply #605 on: September 15, 2012, 08:26:02 PM »

It is the Birthday of the World. 
It is a time to start over and plan what you want for you and your family and friends for the next year     It is a time to remove bad habits and start new good habits.  For the thirteen year old It is  time to  to ask God that you be worthy of the gift of life for another year and that you use it well.

Chabad actually has a whole kids section

Put those party hats away! Getting the year started is serious business!
New Year's day is for us Jews not a time for frivolous rejoicing, but rather a solemn day of prayer. It is the Day of Memorial when all creatures of the earth are remembered by the Creator and judged according to their merits.
Yet, solemn and aweinspiring though this day is, we know that the Supreme judge of the universe is kind and merciful. He is not out to punish us, but merely wants us to follow the laws and regulations He laid down for us for our own good. He has made this Day of Judgment a day of forgiveness and mercy.

Courtesy Farbrengen Magazine

Rosh Hashanah does not find us unprepared. In the month of Elul the approach of Rosh Hashanah was heralded by the daily sounding of the shofar in the synagogue (except Saturdays). During the month of Elul the Jew is particularly careful in the observance of the religious precepts he takes more time for his prayers, he finds himself overflowing with charity and lovingkindness, and resolutely determines to cast away his evil ways and habits of the past.
And a wonderful feeling grips the heart of the true repenter, as if a magic hand has removed the heavy burden that has been weighing upon it in the past. It is the feeling of being able to begin life anew, like a newly born innocent child, with no blemish on his record.

Such is the feeling that the Jew brings with him into the synagogue on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. He finds himself close to Gd, with his prayers pouring out from the very depth of his heart.
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« Reply #606 on: September 15, 2012, 08:41:00 PM »

Adam's Birthday ‑ By Yanki Tauber
Adam's Birthday

By Yanki Tauber

Were Adam and Eve Jewish?

The reason I ask is that the Jewish calendar seems to be exclusively about Jewish history and the Jewish experience: Passover celebrates our liberation from Egypt, Shavout our receiving the Torah at Sinai, Yom Kippur is when G-d forgave us for the sin of the Golden Calf and Sukkot recalls the divine protection during our wanderings through the desert. The list goes on: Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Purim, Lag BaOmer, Tishah B'Av--virtually all our holy days, festivals and special dates are distinctly Jewish affairs, concerned with our lives as Jews.

One very significant exception: the festival of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the birthday of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, who walked the earth some 2,000 years before the first Jew was born and nearly 2,500 years before we were proclaimed a people at Mount Sinai.

And Rosh Hashanah is clearly more than a token "Goyim Appreciation Day." As its name proclaims, it's the head of the Jewish year. And as the Chassidic masters point out, the head of a thing is its primary and most encompassing component.

We Jews have a reputation for being an insular lot. We stand before G-d as Jews, relate to each other as Jews, study, pray, and do acts of kindness as Jews, are born, marry, die and are buried as Jews. And we keep our Jewishness to ourselves: unlike most other religions and isms, we have no interest in converting non-Jews to Judaism. If people show interest, we try to talk them out of it.

So why is the very "head" of our year the one festival which relates to humanity as a whole?

Yet Judaism does have a universal message--one that is fundamental, indeed primal, to our identity as Jews. In the words of our sages, "Civility (derech eretz) comes before Torah."

Long before the Children of Israel received the Torah with its 613 mitzvot, Adam and Eve were given the fundamental laws of civilization. Later, these were reiterated to Noah and his sons and became known as the "Seven Noahide Laws." And when we stood at Sinai to receive "our" mitzvot, we were also given the job of "prevailing upon all inhabitants of the world to accept the laws commanded to the Children of Noah" (Maimonides' Mishnah Torah, Laws of Kings 7:10).

The Noahide Code is Judaism's universal message, yet it is not a "religion." The Noahide Code is not a "religion." This isn't a scaled-down Judaism for non-Jews. Rather, it's G-d's blueprint for civilization, a seven-point foundation for the building of a just, moral and ethical society on earth. The Seven Laws include basics such as: Do not murder your fellow man. Do not steal. Be faithful to your spouse. Do not tear a limb off a living animal. Establish the legal and social institutions that will ensure a just and compassionate society.

Where it gets interesting is with the first two laws: belief in G-d and the prohibition against blaspheme. I have a confession to make: some of my best friends are atheists. I can already hear them saying: "In my book, when you bring G-d into the picture, that's religion, not morality or ethics. You can be a moral person also if you don't believe in and respect G-d." But the entire point of the Noahide Code is that there's no morality without G-d. Humanism won't cut it.

How you think of G-d, how you communicate with G-d, how you serve G-d--that's between you and G-d. That's religion. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the basic premise that the world has a Boss. That we are answerable to a higher authority than ourselves. That the One who created human life also set down the rules for humane living, and enforces those rules.

This--the Noachide Code insists--is the only viable basis for a civilized world.

A few short weeks ago, the awful realization hit us squarely in the face with the force of a Category Five storm: How pitifully thin the veneer of civilization is, how quickly it crumbles when its artificial supports are swept away!

This is what it takes, in this great country of ours, to stave off the law of the jungle: policemen to watch what we're doing, and policemen's police to make sure the policemen show up for work in the morning. Oh, and a few more important things: electric lights so that the policemen can see us, and passable roads so that they can cart us off to jail.

Turn off the lights, flood the roads and disable the punch clocks in the police stations, and five thousand years of civilization evaporate in an hour. The strong prey on the weak, pillaging and raping simply because they can.

I have another confession: some of my best friends are cultural snobs. I hear them saying: "You say that civilization broke down? You call those people civilized? Do they attend the opera on Wednesday nights? Have they read Voltaire? Do they gather in each other's homes in the evenings to discuss the great moral philosophers of the Rationalist and Humanist schools? These are people who have lived in poverty and depravity all their lives. Nothing really changed. It's just that before the hurricane, the crime and squalor in their ghettos followed certain known patterns and were nicely contained by police reports and government statistics. What shocked you was just more of the same, without the usual frames of reference. That's all..."

Turn off the lights, flood the roads and disable the punch clocks in the police stations, and five thousand years of civilization evaporate in an hour. Ok. So let's look back not three weeks but a hundred years. Question: What country had more moral philosophers per square kilometer than any other before or since? Answer: A large Western European country, begins with the letter G. Question: What country orchestrated, but a generation later, a highly efficient operation, aided by sophisticated technologies and accompanied by strains of Wagner, which was also the most horrendous acts of torture and murder in human history? Answer: Same place.

It's really quite logical. As the ancients said, you can't raise yourself by grabbing a fistful of your own hair and pulling upwards. Nothing human-based will ever transcend the human. A philosophy conceived by the human mind will be elegantly refuted--or side-stepped--by that same mind at the service of its own instincts.

Morality and ethics--the notion that "I want to do this but I won't because it's wrong" and "I don't feel like it, but I'll do it because it's the right thing to do"--might be temporarily enforced by a philosopher's thesis or a policeman's gun. But not for long.

On Rosh Hashanah we remember, and remind the world, that G-d created man and woman, G-d gave them the gift of life, and G-d laid down its rules: respect the life, family and property of your fellow, treat the creatures of your planet kindly, do charity and uphold justice. Do so not only because it makes sense to you, not only because it "feels right," but because you are a subject of G-d and you accept your Sovereign's decrees.

This is the fountainhead of our existence. Without this, there is nothing.
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« Reply #607 on: September 16, 2012, 03:20:15 PM »

Wishing everyone new beginnings and a Sweet, Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Year! L'shanah tovah!

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« Reply #608 on: September 21, 2012, 07:10:12 AM »

The Whispers of Democracy in Ancient Judaism
The prayers of the High Holidays rest on personal responsibility—the basis of self-government..

Jews are in the midst of a period known as the Days of Awe, which began on Sunday night with Rosh Hashanah and culminates next Wednesday with Yom Kippur. It seems almost a misnomer to call them "holidays," though the first marks the Jewish New Year. Rather, they are deeply personal events whose aim is self-reflection, self-improvement and repairing what is broken in daily relationships.

It's striking how much this most important period on the Jewish calendar shares with that most essential exercise in American democracy. Walt Whitman wrote in the late 1800s that "a well-contested American national election" was "the triumphant result of faith in human kind." This country's unique sense of optimism—the view that the future is unwritten and full of possibility, that anything can be achieved—is also the sensibility underpinning the Days of Awe.

On a cosmic level, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the birth of the world. On an individual level, it marks the rebirth of the soul as Jews examine their faults and ask forgiveness from those they have wronged. At heart, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are deeply optimistic events. A major theme in the prayers Jews recite on the High Holidays is the striving to be a better person, with the understanding that we are in control of our future.

As moderns, we take for granted how fundamentally revolutionary the Jews were in arriving at this novel concept about time, destiny and personal responsibility. Until their call to monotheism nearly four millennia ago, the worldview in the Levant was very different. Life was an endless cycle devoted to agrarian pursuits and appeasing warring gods in aid of those pursuits.

Thomas Cahill, in his riveting book "The Gifts of the Jews," underscores the point: "For the ancients, nothing new ever did happen, except for the occasional monstrosity. Life on Earth followed the course of the stars. And what had been would, in due course, come around again. . . . The future was always to be a replay of the past, as the past was simply an earthly replay of the drama of the heavens."

Perhaps the most profound gift of the Jews is that they broke down this fatalistic notion of the world, in which people were trapped on a great spinning wheel, with no future or past. In this way, the ancient Jews invented the concept of history in which the future was not an endless cycle but could be steered by our actions in the present. They inserted the individual, and individual responsibility and justice, into the equation.

This ancient Jewish view was a massive shift in how people viewed mankind's relationship to a deity—and it put responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men and women for their own destiny. This was the end of predetermination and the beginning of personal choice, justice and the quest for liberty. These themes, prevalent in the Jewish liturgy, are on display among the candidates competing for the White House, whatever the political party.

Democracy, Mr. Cahill says, "grows directly out of the Israelite vision of individuals—subjects of value because they are images of God, each with a unique and personal destiny."

Similarly, the University of Chicago historian William F. Irwin lectured in the 1940s that it was the ancient Jewish prophets and their advocacy of freedom that would find an early expression in the Magna Carta and later in the American Bill of Rights. Perhaps that is partly because the ancient Jews had such terrible experiences with monarchs.

Before the Jews swapped their political system—one of a collection of judges—for a monarchy, to be like other Near Eastern governments, the prophet Samuel warned of the predilection of kings for tyranny and over-taxation. A people will buckle under a king, Samuel warned to no avail. "He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will tithe your crops and grape harvests to give to his officials and his servants. He will take your male and female slaves. . . . As for you, you will become his slaves."

One can hear, without too much strain, the distant echoes of Samuel's admonitions in Thomas Jefferson's catalog against King George in the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Rosenberg, a former national correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, is a vice president for Ogilvy Washington.
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« Reply #609 on: September 21, 2012, 02:16:19 PM »

In 2003, I was named President of Thomas Nelson. It was an extremely busy time. I made some major changes to my executive team and had two vacant positions. As a result, I essentially had three jobs. One morning on my way to work, I grabbed my computer case in my right hand, a fresh cup of coffee in my left, and headed downstairs to the garage to leave to work.Four steps from the bottom, I slipped on the carpet. Without a free hand to grab the stair-rail, I tumbled forward. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my fanny on the landing.My wife Gail heard me fall and came running. “Are you okay?” she asked as she raced down the stairs to help me up.

“I’m fine,” I assured her. “However, I’m afraid I’ve made a mess.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she offered as she helped me up. “I can clean this up while you get changed.”

When I put my weight down on my right foot, I let out a yelp. “Oh my gosh! I think my ankle is sprained.” As it turned out, it was more than sprained. It was broken.

My day was, of course, scuttled. In fact, the next ten days were scuttled. I had to have surgery, including a plate and six screws to repair the damage. In addition, for three months I had to wear a therapeutic boot (in lieu of a cast). This couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

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« Reply #610 on: September 25, 2012, 12:32:57 AM »

By the Grace of G-d
Erev Yom Kippur, 5773 • September 25, 2012 
Dear Friend,
Tonight, with the onset of Yom Kippur, we will each beg G-d to give us life -- healthful life, meaningful life, productive life, good life -- life as G-d alone can provide.
Each of us will repeat these requests with increasing urgency throughout this holiest day of the year: Please G-d, give me life! Give my family life! Give the Jewish People life! Give the world life!
Our Sages inform us that G-d's response often mirrors our own initiative: When we perform a good deed G-d performs similar good deeds in return.
In our urgent quest for life, we open the floodgates of G-d's life-blessings by Giving Life.
And if we are to expect G-d to overlook our shortcomings, to ignore the 'rulebook' and apply His boundless compassion to grant us bountiful good, then --
It is crucial that we don't simply give a little, within our comfort zone, or as fits our budget.
Rather, we must give Life to others in a manner far beyond our means, way beyond our perceived limits. We must reach deep inside of ourselves to freely give our hard-earned means -- our life! -- away to others, in order to Give Life.
There may be no greater way to prepare for G-d's endless blessings on Yom Kippur.
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« Reply #611 on: September 25, 2012, 12:04:50 PM »

The meaning and  haunting melody  of Kol Nidre

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« Reply #612 on: September 30, 2012, 06:52:08 AM »

Just the Two of You   Tishrei 14, 5773 • September 30, 2012
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
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Worry is self-humiliation. Trust is dignity.
To worry is to worship the world. To fall on your knees in dread and grovel before it.
To trust is to lift up your eyes and stand as tall as the heavens. To live with nothing else but the bond between God above and you below.
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« Reply #613 on: October 02, 2012, 08:35:19 PM »

Holistic Holiness

By Mendel Kalmenson

If you were asked to define Judaism in one line, what would you say? Is it unique among religions, and if yes, how? What has it brought to the table of religious discourse?
Holiday Naming

Those who have named children, companies or products, or have picked titles for books or events, know the amount of thought that goes into the process. Which name best expresses the uniqueness of this item, person, or gathering? How do I capture the essence of the name-bearer?

The same is true regarding Jewish holidays.

The G‑d-given names of the dates we celebrate, spread throughout the Jewish calendar, were chosen to convey the central theme and unique message of that particular holiday.

If anything, the mitzvah of sukkah—and the name Sukkot—seems to point only to the holiday’s setting and venue(So that Passover, for example, which teaches freedom, is called in the Torah Chag HaMatzot [the “Festival of the Matzahs”], after the matzah or unleavened bread we eat. The name recalls the haste with which G‑d redeemed our people from Egyptian bondage, and the simplicity of the bread [called “poor man’s bread”] bespeaks humility—the key to achieving freedom. The names of other Jewish holidays are winners as well.)

What about the holiday of Sukkot, named after the sukkah, the outdoor hut we call home throughout the week-long holiday of Sukkot?

Why is this mitzvah chosen to represent the inner message of the holiday—what of the holiday’s other mitzvot? There’s the biblical command to take the Four Kinds, the mitzvah to be extra joyful, there’s the water-drawing celebrations, etc. These rituals and mitzvot also seemingly define the manner in which we celebrate this momentous festival and the attitude and mood that pervades it, not merely the mitzvah of sukkah.

If anything, the mitzvah of sukkah—and the name Sukkot—seems to point only to the holiday’s setting and venue. Why, then, did the Torah choose to name the holiday after the mitzvah of sukkah, a mitzvah that seemingly demands of us no more than the switching of our location?

But that’s what Judaism is all about.

Do whatever you normally do, all those mundane activities—but move it to the holy shade of the sukkah, and you’ve done a mitzvah. Same is true with everyday life: do whatever you normally do, all those mundane activities—but move it to the realm of holiness.

The sukkah emphasizes that almost every act of living can be holy, and that no act (that isn’t expressly forbidden by the Torah or the sages) is intrinsically “mundane.”

It teaches that holiness need not be imported from heaven, but is to be readily found here on earth. Holiness need not be created, for it’s already extant in creation, waiting only to be accessed and revealed.

“Holiness” is a fancy word that describes perspective and choice of function, and has much to do with motive and intent. Take the act of eating for example. How I view my (kosher) food determines its level of “holiness”; it can be gluttonous and self-serving, or sacred and G‑d-serving. The difference is purely in the mind.

The sukkah thus teaches that physical existence need not be transformed into something it is not; it needs only to be looked at differently, recognized for what in essence it truly is.

In sum: The sukkah is not just about a shift of location for living life, but a shift of perspective on living life.

To connect with G‑d, so long as that is your objective, you don’t need to draw water, you can drink water; and you don’t have to bind and bless fruit, you can eat them. For material life doesn’t need to be renovated or its sanctity generated—only activated.1

And about Judaism in one line:

Here’s how the Lubavitcher Rebbe answered the question, “How would you define Judaism in a nutshell?”

Here’s how the Rebbe answered the question, “How would you define Judaism in a nutshell?” . . .“Judaism is not something abstract,” the Rebbe replied, “detached from ordinary everyday activities. Judaism must concern the Jew twenty-four hours a day, in every environment and in every activity. This is the Jewish way of proclaiming G‑d is one!”
What’s in It for Me?

Many of us tend to dichotomize and compartmentalize our lives, interests, values, and even personalities: there’s the secular and the sacred, the spiritual and the material, the refined and the natural. There’s who I am in the synagogue, and there’s who I am on the street. Often, the two seem hardly related.

To be holy is to be holistic.

Just as G‑d is one, we must be one.

A chassidic lumber merchant in Riga was calculating his accounts. Under a column of figures, he inadvertently wrote, “Total: Ein od milvado—there is none besides Him!” In response to his assistant’s raised eyebrow he said: “It is considered perfectly natural that during prayer one lets his mind wander off to his lumber in Riga. So what is so surprising if in the middle of business dealings, my mind is invaded by thoughts of the unity of G‑d . . . ?”
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Based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings, published in Likutei Sichot, vol. 22 (Emor) and vol. 2 (Sukkot).

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« Reply #614 on: October 07, 2012, 10:57:55 AM »

"This Is My Torah Scroll"

By Ruth Benjamin

Henryk was very young in 1945, when the War ended and solitary survivors tried frantically to trace their relatives. He had spent what seemed to be most of his life with his nanny, who had hidden him away from the Nazis at his father's request. There was great personal risk involved, but the woman had readily taken it, as she loved the boy.

All the Jews were being killed, and Henryk's nanny did not think for a moment that the father, Joseph Foxman, would survive the infamous destruction of the Vilna Ghetto. He would surely have been transferred to Auschwitz -— and everyone knew that nobody ever came back from Auschwitz. She therefore had no scruples about adopting the boy, having him baptized into the Catholic Church and taught catechism by the local priest.

He told his son that he was a Jew and that his name was Avraham
It was Simchat Torah when his father came to take him. The heartbroken nanny had packed all his clothing and his small catechism book, stressing to the father that the boy had become a good Catholic. Joseph Foxman took his son by the hand and led him directly to the Great Synagogue of Vilna. On the way, he told his son that he was a Jew and that his name was Avraham.

Not far from the house, they passed the church and the boy reverently crossed himself, causing his father great anguish. Just then, a priest emerged who knew the boy, and when Henryk rushed over to kiss his hand, the priest spoke to him, reminding him of his Catholic faith.

Everything inside of Joseph wanted to drag his son away from the priest and from the church. But he knew that this was not the way to do things. He nodded to the priest, holding his son more closely. After all, these people had harbored his child and saved the child's life. He had to show his son Judaism, living Judaism, and in this way all these foreign beliefs would be naturally abandoned and forgotten.

They entered the Great Synagogue of Vilna, now a remnant of a past, vibrant Jewish era. There they found some Jewish survivors from Auschwitz who had made their way back to Vilna and were now rebuilding their lives and their Jewish spirits. Amid the stark reality of their suffering and terrible loss, in much diminished numbers, they were singing and dancing with real joy while celebrating Simchat Torah.

Avraham stared wide-eyed around him and picked up a tattered prayer book with a touch of affection. Something deep inside of him responded to the atmosphere, and he was happy to be there with the father he barely knew. He held back, though, from joining the dancing.

A Jewish man wearing a Soviet Army uniform could not take his eyes off the boy, and he came over to Joseph. "Is this child... Jewish?" he asked, a touch of awe in his voice.

"This is the first live Jewish child I have come across in all this time..."
The father answered that the boy was Jewish and introduced his son. As the soldier stared at Henryk-Avraham, he fought to hold back tears. "Over these four terrible years, I have traveled thousands of miles, and this is the first live Jewish child I have come across in all this time. Would you like to dance with me on my shoulders?" he asked the boy, who was staring back at him, fascinated.

The father nodded permission, and the soldier hoisted the boy high onto his shoulders. With tears now coursing down his cheeks and a heart full of real joy, the soldier joined in the dancing.

"This is my Torah scroll," he cried.

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League -- the Avraham in our story -- remembers this as his first conscious feeling of a connection with Judaism and of being a Jew.

By Ruth Benjamin   More articles...  |   
Originally published in Kosher Spirit
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London

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« Reply #615 on: October 09, 2012, 09:52:05 AM »

Second Nature or Second Thoughts
by Sarah Shapiro

When giving doesn’t come naturally.

Navigating my way one day along a busy sidewalk in downtown Jerusalem, my head was immersed in all sorts of forgettable thoughts when suddenly I stopped short. A young woman had thrust her face into my line of vision.

The young face was old -- ancient, even, and haggard -- then turned young again, then old. She was talking at me.

Now, this city’s full of beggars -- nothing unusual there, especially at this time of year -- but this was your classic beggar, a beggar’s beggar, a beggar extraordinaire. She could have been an extra in an amateur production of Oliver Twist. (Wanted: Underweight female of indeterminate age/ good cheekbones/ for role of desperate, bedraggled, homeless pauper.) Her aggressive dark eyes and pleading mouth, the melodramatic hands imploring, demanding ...these automatically served to warn me: Beware. All this neediness, real or feigned, was too much. Too raw, too unrefined, and she was standing too close; my innards recoiled spontaneously. I could smell her. In anthropological lingo, she was violating my culturally learned spatial boundaries. What claim could she have on me, an inward-looking stranger in the pre-Rosh Hashana crowds, attending to mundane High Holiday errands? Some horrible and tragic calamity, apparently. An emergency! A horrendous injustice had befallen her children! It’s your job to save us!

Not a fundraiser for Hadassah, that’s for sure. The Jewish Federations would not have hired her.

There are Israelis whose Hebrew I take pride in understanding quite well, but this woman’s diatribe I could not construe at all. Her brow squeezed up in lines of torment (those brown eyes flickered, reminding me eerily of something, but instantly the illusion passed) and the chin lifted beseechingly, as did one upturned palm, long fingers reaching for my good fortune. For of course I’d already taken out my coin purse (though it was a little hard seeing what was in there, tipping it towards me to shield the fifty-shekel bill from her invasive gaze.) I’d make my getaway momentarily, but didn’t want to bear sin on account of her, either, just in case...In case, by some chance (Yom Kippur was in the air).she was for real. Theoretically, at least, a cluster of peeping little ones could actually be out there somewhere, in their dark, isolated nest, waiting for this scarecrow of a Jewish mother to fly home with crumbs, a taste for them of milk and honey.

Better to err on the safe side.

I extracted a ten-shekel coin and placed it upon that palm, noticing within me the sunflower of predictable, simple happiness which blooms involuntarily at such moments, in spite of my suspiciousness, in spite of myself. Her head cocked to one side.

“Toda,” she said, and our eyes met.

She smiled, almost, and I saw my father.


My father, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, was someone for whom giving -- not only of his money but of himself -- seemed to come easily, by second nature. He gave away what he had, period, minus the second thoughts, and was a happy man. If this daughter had any complaints against him at all, it’s that by comparison to his goodness, my self-image (and ultimately, what could have been my inheritance) suffered proportionally.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l once said that when you do something good (and he was referring here, by the way, only to adults, not children) you should try to keep your mouth shut. The less said about it the better, and the better you’ll emulate God.

My father’s private thoughts regarding the Almighty will remain, for the most part, unknown to me, but he did, in my opinion, manifest many of His attributes. It was only after his death, for example, that I heard about the overcoat.

One snowy night in midtown Manhattan, someone broke into my parents' parked car and stole my father’s briefcase and brand new winter coat. “They’d put the magazine to bed already,” my mother told me, “and the whole dummy of that week’s issue was in there with a lot of other things. And it was such a nice warm coat, Daddy loved it.”

Minutes after reporting the theft in the local police station, my parents got a phone call to come on back. The briefcase had been found intact in a nearby garbage can, and the police had caught the thief red-handed.

“They found him walking off in the coat!” said Mommy.”We were tickled pink. After they handed us the coat and Daddy checked the briefcase and saw that everything was still in there, he asked where the man was. The police said not to worry, the thief was in their holding cell until they could transfer him to Federal Detention downtown. Daddy asked if he go in and meet him. The police were surprised but they said ok and Daddy was in there for more than an hour. When we left he told me that the two of them had had a very good talk, and that he was a decent man, just desperate, fallen on hard times and homeless, out of work and nowhere to go. Daddy found out when the trial was and came to testify. He told the judge that if they’d let the man out on furlough, he’d take legal responsibility for him, and that’s what happened. Daddy got him a job somewhere – I think in a printing press - and oh, he gave the man his coat. Daddy said it fit perfectly.”

Another memory, from a1980s visit of my parents to Israel: We were just getting out of a taxi whose driver had been grouchy and unpleasant, when my father (who was unfamiliar with Israeli currency) asked in an undertone how many shekels the tip should be.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” I said, thinking: especially not this guy. “We don’t tip taxi drivers here.”

My father remained seated and ignored my comment. “How much is this?” he asked me, holding out five shekel coins.

“About a dollar and half.”

He gave it to the driver, emerged from the car, and looked me in the eye. “You know, Sarah,” he said quietly, “taxi drivers have a hard job. Being in traffic all day, and people are rude. I’m so grateful I don’t have to do that for a living.”


Our forefather Joseph famously invoked the image of his father Jacob to save himself from sin. I can’t say the same for me. Faced by my brethren’s need, something uncomfortable within me -- I can’t even say what -- often turns away.

But I did get a glimpse of Daddy in that mother’s familiar Jewish eyes. I suppose that God, Who wants just to give, and Whose nature it is to give, is more like my father than like me. Yet for a mortal such as myself to keep trying (even unsuccessfully!) to transcend her nature and emulate Him is also noble, and a joy, and one of the most meaningful triumphs He made available to us humans.

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Week.
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« Reply #616 on: October 09, 2012, 10:30:21 AM »

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« Reply #617 on: October 12, 2012, 01:07:45 PM »

Mayim Bialik: My Car Accident
by Mayim Bialik

The Jewish take.

It’s been three weeks since the car accident I had which damaged my right hand and set me on a course of several months of recovery, lots of lying on the couch, and more negotiating with dosages of acetaminophen and ibuprofen than I care to discuss.

I have written about the accident cursorily and somewhat lightly: how I removed my false eyelashes in the ambulance, made jokes about desires for tummy tucks with my plastic surgeons who repaired my hand, and the breathing and meditative techniques of natural labor I utilized to manage pain and fear. But my religious identity has pursued me–or I it–throughout this ordeal, and I have a desire to write about some of the more complex aspects of the accident and recovery as an observant Jew.

(I have many non-Orthodox, secular, and atheist thoughts, desires and friends. I do not intend to imply superiority to my identity as an observant Jew. I sincerely hope this will be interpreted as demonstrative and reflective rather than being perceived as self-righteous and as advocating for Orthodoxy, which I am not.)

I have outlined the significant events of the accident and hope to demonstrate the consistency of my belief system, the complexity and strength I draw from it, and the desire to have every aspect of my life affirm and not contradict it as a testament to the unbroken chain of tradition I cling to.

By either no significance or all of the cosmic significance in the Universe, the events broke down into seven mini-epochs, which I realized only after I identified them, parallel–you guessed it – the seven days of Creation.


First there was darkness. In the beginning of Creating, there is emptiness of an astonishing quality, and darkness upon the surface of some great depth. My experience of darkness was a loud cacophonous shattering, a flash of white exploding (the airbag, I later realized), smoke rising up, and an astonishing emptiness known to us mortals as a horrifying and deafening silence. My instantaneous instinct was simply to survive and to find light, to get out of the car immediately and find my way to my children, wherever they were (10 miles away at a museum). I knew that I had to reach my husband, and I had to reach him immediately.

This accident was very dark. The darkness still consumes me. But it is always darkest before the dawn, isn’t it. Jewish “days” begin at night because our Torah tells us so: “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.” We cannot detect light and color and shadows and subtlety if not for the contrast of darkness, and we have only one way to pass through darkness, and that is through the darkness and into the light.


From the moment I stepped out of my smashed up car until I arrived at the hospital over an hour later, I was stuck in the middle of everything, it seemed. I see why Creation includes separating the waters above from the waters below as distinct from just making land and sea. There is a middle existence before land and sea; a floating, a hovering. I was in that: I was floating and hovering, between Heaven and Earth, if you will, for those tempestuous hours.

I couldn’t escape a sense of movement in my soul and body and a desire to maintain movement for survival. I tried to anchor myself to something but failed. I knew from my neuroscience training and my training in self-hypnosis (which I used successfully for pain management during the birth of both of my sons) that I needed to decrease my blood pressure to let my body block pain with the natural endorphins and opiates our bodies contain.

I tried to remember which tehillim (psalms) I used during labor, but my brain would not be still long enough to remember. One line from Psalm 118 broke through the chaos: Min ha meitzar: “From the narrow straits, I called upon God. God answered me with expansiveness.” I couldn’t hold more than a few phrases at a time in my head, but I was grateful for something to hold onto. And through the chaos, I found a separation that comforted me, as if to affirm for me: This is who I am, and everything else is not who I am. I felt scared, and impatient, and lonely. But an abstract and simultaneously very palpable notion of not being alone because God is always with me tore through the nothingness and made me feel my sense of identity, concreteness, and self coalesce. I am never alone. This deduction (or wishful thinking?) is not an argument for Belief, but rather is, for me, a consequence of Belief.


Arriving at the hospital was the first notion I had of solid ground. It was a place fear and comfort could both reside in contrasting ambiguous safety. As I was wheeled into my hospital room, I asked the nurse to stop my gurney at the doorpost so that I could kiss the mezuzah on the doorframe. That’s how it is in Jewish hospitals. I acknowledged internally that my right hand, the dominant hand in Judaism, is the one with which we typically perform this act. I recall some sort of internal debate I had about using my left hand to touch the mezuzah and bring my fingers to my lips, and I made a mental note to find out from one of my religious friends what the Jewish laws of mezuzah-kissing are.

Onkelos, the 1st century scholar and one of Judaism’s most famous converts to our faith once taught that in most communities, legions of military, dignitaries and soldiers stand guard outside of a King’s quarters. Judaism, however, places God outside the door (mezuzah anyone?) to watch over and protect the most precious thing held inside: us.

I tethered myself to the solid ground of my faith as pain and fear and shock threatened to send me out to sea: when the cheery hospital volunteer opened my door, she couldn’t even get out the sentence, “Is there anything you need?” before I blurted out something you can blurt out at Jewish hospitals: “I need to see a rabbi.” The volunteer looked at me as if no one had made that request in a very long time. She smiled and I decided she was Jewish, too. She told me that she would leave him a message but that he wasn’t due to arrive until an hour later, at 2 p.m. In a sea of panic and fear, I had caught sight of dry land. It was right under my feet.


As the sun guides the day and the moon guides the night and the stars shine always in myriad formation and permutation, I found guidance and direction from our tradition for the next hours in which waiting was my main preoccupation. I waited for my husband. I waited to be examined. I waited to be X-Rayed. I waited for my IV to be put in. I waited for the rabbi. I waited to stop hurting.

I chanted out loud to myself the first supplication ever uttered in the Torah: the prayer Moses offers up for his sister: El na, refa na la: “God, please heal her, please.” My husband arrived at the hospital after dropping our sons with a close friend just as the rabbi arrived. The rabbi was young, looked straight out of a Maccabeats video, and was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. We knew people in common, and I was relieved he was Orthodox and therefore knew about the things that would matter to me even in a dire medical situation: not shaking hands with men, not wanting to be seen in any state of undress by men, maintaining modesty even with my husband, not wanting unkosher food served to me.

But what was most comforting and what guided me faithfully was the common language we spoke and the universality of his presence and his words. I recounted the accident for the rabbi and I wasn’t embarrassed to say “Thank God” as many times as I did. I knew he understood me. As I spoke to him, I cried. It was the first time I cried that entire day. I needed to cry.

I asked the rabbi for a book of Tehillim (psalms) which he happily brought me and he left a card at my bedside printed by the hospital wishing me a refuah shleyma, a complete healing, in Hebrew and English. He blessed me and I cried as I heard my Hebrew name pronounced. Out of the mess I was in, this Rabbi led me through dark and showed me light as he declared, God, please heal Mayim Chaya bas Brayna Basha, please.


And then there was the first emergence of primal life and primal love. There were murmurings and rustlings of something growing and coming alive. The Yeshiva University Maccabeats, my famous frum friends, sent out a tweet asking people to daven for me. I cried at this show of broad and intimate love.

The book of Tehillim which the rabbi had brought me held my tears, and I told anyone Jewish I could find that the Psalm for that day was Psalm 73 and contained the following passage: “I was always loyal to You, You grasped my right hand.” Indeed, God held my right hand and continues to hold it fast. The skeptics among you will justifiably assert that I–or any religious fanatic–would have found any comfort in any Psalm on any day. I choose instead to see this as a stirring of inspiration and love. Because I want to. And I can. I take great comfort in the slow building of momentum towards vibrancy, intensity, and life itself.


And then there were people. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, attendants. And a nurse in recovery who instead of sending me home in scrubs found me a long hospital gown to go home in since the dress I was wheeled into the hospital wearing was all bloody and the sleeves were too slim to fit over my cast and bandages. There were faces and hands, and the products of our hands: needles and masks and gloves and scalpels and surgical thread.

And when I came home, there were more people. Visitors, therapists, emails from people and phone calls and flowers from people. And there were the people with whom I connect to on a deep level; the religious level, the intellectual level, the emotional level: the chevrusa (study partner) I met through Partners In Torah, my fellow Kveller writers Carla Naumburg and Matthue Roth, my best friend Adi, and yes, my favorite Maccabeat. These people and others asked for my Hebrew name, so that when they lit candles for Shabbat, they could think of me.

That Friday when I crawled off the couch to light candles for Shabbat, my older son reminded me to pray for myself.

Seventh Day: THE SABBATH

“Thus the Heaven and the Earth were finished and all their array.” The first Shabbat after my accident, I was not yet well enough to walk to shul, but the following Shabbat, my husband, sons, and I stayed walking distance from our preferred shul so that I could bensch Gomel, a prayer which is recited after a life-threatening incident such as I had experienced.

That Friday night as Shabbat began, I attended Kabbalat Shabbat services at a small Carlebach-style minyan I love. My husband took care of the boys so that I could have some time alone to daven, meditate, and also sing and even dance a little with the other women there. I felt a tremendous sense of joy that Shabbat as well as a healthy amount of fear and trepidation.

Bensching Gomel after the Torah service the following morning, although brief, was very emotional and complicated. I thanked God for saving even the unworthy, as the prayer states. I wondered who is unworthy of saving, and decided to simply be grateful I was alive and not alone.

Blessed. Sanctified. Abstention. Shabbat.


There is no eighth day of Creation. However, in Judaism, the number eight holds powerful significance. There are eight days until a boy’s bris, many of our holidays span eight days, and there is a mystical notion that whereas seven is this-worldly, eight is other-worldly. As Matisyahu says in Miracle, his song about the eight days of Chanukah, “Eight is the number of infinity, one more than what you know how to be.”

Our tradition suggests that one who recites Gomel make a donation to tzedakah so as to make some good come from a tragedy. In addition, a Seudah Hoda’ah, or Feast of Gratitude, is also suggested when you are feeling up to it, consisting of a simple meal, breaking bread, and making a Dvar Torah speech including an acknowledgment of gratitude to God.

My hair and makeup artist had, in the weeks preceding my accident, been talking to me about helping her brainstorm ideas for how to sponsor a well for a community in need in Haiti. Days after my accident, I told her to stop brainstorming.

I have decided to take on this well building as my healing/tzedakah project and will be hosting a Seudah Hoda’ah next week to try and make what is this-worldly resonate in the realms of the other-worldly.

Thank you, God, for bringing light to darkness, stability to chaos, guidance, love, people, hands, medicine, and the holy Sabbath. Thank you for a pure soul that longs to cling to You, and an open heart that wants to draw near. Every act of mine is an act of devotion and a reaffirmation of my gratitude. Always.

U’sha’avtem mayim b’sasson, mi’ma’anei ha’yeshua.
“You shall with joy draw forth water, from the fountains of salvation.”

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« Reply #618 on: October 22, 2012, 11:33:08 AM »

True Grit
by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
The secret of success is how we view failure.

What makes some children succeed while others fail? More generally, what drives some people to great achievement while others languish, their dreams unfulfilled? That is the question that intrigued American writer Paul Tough. His answer is contained in his book How Children Succeed, published last month.

Tough discovered that what makes the difference is not intelligence, skill or native ability. It isn’t cognitive at all. The difference, he argues, lies in character, in traits such as discipline, persistence, self-control, zest, gratitude, optimism, curiosity, courage and conscientiousness. One dimension, though, matters more than all the others. He calls it grit: the ability to keep going despite repeated failures and setbacks. People with grit grow. People without it are either defeated by life’s challenges or – more likely – become risk-averse. They play it safe.

I am fascinated by the stories of people who had grit, who overcame repeated failures and rejections. I think of the lonely single mother, close to destitution, who sat in coffee bars writing a children’s novel to earn some money, only to find that the first twelve publishers to whom she sent the manuscript rejected it. She kept going. You’ve heard of her. Her name is J. K. Rowling.

I think of another writer of a book about children who suffered even more rejections, twenty-one in all. The book was eventually published. It was called “Lord of the Flies,” and its author, William Golding, was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Related Video: Everyone Falls

The most famous failure of our time was the late Steve Jobs. In his magnificent commencement address at Stanford University he told the story of the three blows of fate that shaped his life: dropping out of university, being fired from the company he founded, Apple, and being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rather than being defeated by them, he turned them all to creative use, eventually returning to Apple and developing three of the iconic inventions of the twenty first century, the I-pod, I-phone and I-pad.

The house of the Chief Rabbi happens to be close to a street called Abbey Road. Fifty years after the group that made it famous had their first hit, you can still see crowds of tourists being photographed on the world’s most celebrated zebra crossing. Their first audition has passed into legend. They performed for a record company only to be told that guitar bands were on their way out. The verdict, in January 1962, was: “The Beatles have no future in show business.”

J.K. Rowling, William Golding, Steve Jobs and the Beatles were not, as far as I know, religious people. Some people just have grit. It is part of their nature. But what about the rest of us? Can you learn grit? Can you acquire it if you were not born with it? I am not sure there is a general answer to that question, but here is a personal one.

I have known my share of failures. Early in my career I was turned down for almost every job I applied for. It took me two years after qualifying as a rabbi to find a congregation. From the age of twenty, one of my ambitions was to write a book. I tried and failed for twenty years. I still have a filing cabinet full of books I started and did not complete. Finally, energized by a statement of George Bernard Shaw that if you are going to write a book you had better do it by the time you are forty, I completed my first at that age and have written one a year ever since. I learned to embrace failure instead of fearing it.

Why? Because at some point on my religious journey I discovered that more than we have faith in God, God has faith in us. He lifts us every time we fall. He forgives us every time we fail. He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. He mends our broken hearts. I never cease to be moved by the words of Isaiah: “Even youths grow tired and weary and the young may stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength. They soar on wings like eagles, they run and don’t grow weary, they walk and don’t grow faint.”

The greatest source of grit I know, the force that allows us to overcome every failure, every setback, every defeat, and keep going and growing, is faith in God’s faith in us.

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« Reply #619 on: October 29, 2012, 05:06:13 PM »

Covenant & Conversation: Vayera – Even Higher Than Angels
5773, Bereishit, Covenant & Conversation
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
It is one of the most famous scenes in the Bible. Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day when three strangers pass by. He urges them to rest and take some food. The text calls them men. They are in fact angels, coming to tell Sarah that she will have a child.

The chapter seems simple. It is, however, complex and ambiguous. It consists of three sections:

Verse 1: G-d appears to Abraham.

Verses 2-16: Abraham and the men/angels.

Verses 17-33: The dialogue between G-d and Abraham about the fate of Sodom.

How are these sections related to one another? Are they one scene, two or three? The most obvious answer is three. Each of the above sections is a separate event. First, G-d appears to Abraham, as Rashi explains, “to visit the sick” after Abraham’s circumcision. Then the visitors arrive with the news about Sarah’s child. Then takes place the great dialogue about justice.

Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed II: 42) suggests that there are two scenes (the visit of the angels, and the dialogue with G-d). The first verse does not describe an event at all. It is, rather, a chapter heading.

The third possibility is that we have a single continuous scene. G-d appears to Abraham, but before He can speak, Abraham sees the passers-by and asks G-d to wait while he serves them food. Only when they have departed – in verse 17 – does he turn to G-d, and the conversation begins.

How we interpret the chapter will affect the way we translate the word Adonai in the third verse. It could mean (1) G-d or (2) ‘my lords’ or ‘sirs’. In the first case, Abraham would be addressing heaven. In the second, he would be speaking to the passers-by.

Several English translations take the second option. Here is one example:

The Lord appeared to Abraham . . . He looked up, and saw three men standing over against him. On seeing them, he hurried from his tent door to meet them. Bowing low, he said, “Sirs, if I have deserved your favour, do not go past your servant without a visit.”

The same ambiguity appears in the next chapter (19: 2), when two of Abraham’s visitors (in this chapter they are described as angels) visit Lot in Sodom:

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening while Lot was sitting by the city gates. When he saw them, he rose to meet them and bowing low he said, “I pray you, sirs, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night there and bathe your feet.”

Normally, differences of interpretation of biblical narrative have no halakhic implications. They are matters of legitimate disagreement. This case is unusual, because if we translate Adonai as ‘G-d’, it is a holy name, and both the writing of the word by a scribe, and the way we treat a parchment or document containing it, have special stringencies in Jewish law. If we translate it as ‘my lords’ or ‘sirs’, then it has no special sanctity.

The simplest reading of both texts – the one concerning Abraham, the other, Lot – would be to read the word in both cases as ‘sirs’. Jewish law, however, ruled otherwise. In the second case – the scene with Lot – it is read as ‘sirs’, but in the first it is read as ‘G-d’. This is an extraordinary fact, because it suggests that Abraham interrupted G-d as He was about to speak, and asked Him to wait while he attended to his guests. This is how tradition ruled that the passage should be read:

The Lord appeared to Abraham . . . He looked up and saw three men standing over against him. On seeing them, he hurried from his tent door to meet them, and bowed down. [Turning to G-d] he said: “My G-d, if I have found favour in your eyes, do not leave your servant [i.e. Please wait until I have given hospitality to these men].” [He then turned to the men and said:] “Let me send for some water so that you may bathe your feet and rest under this tree…”

This daring interpretation became the basis for a principle in Judaism: “Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine presence.” Faced with a choice between listening to G-d, and offering hospitality to [what seemed to be] human beings, Abraham chose the latter. G-d acceded to his request, and waited while Abraham brought the visitors food and drink, before engaging him in dialogue about the fate of Sodom.

How can this be so? Is it not disrespectful at best, heretical at worst, to put the needs of human beings before attending on the presence of G-d?

What the passage is telling us, though, is something of immense profundity. The idolaters of Abraham’s time worshipped the sun, the stars, and the forces of nature as gods. They worshipped power and the powerful. Abraham knew, however, that G-d is not in nature but beyond nature. There is only one thing in the universe on which He has set His image: the human person, every person, powerful and powerless alike.

The forces of nature are impersonal, which is why those who worship them eventually lose their humanity. As the Psalm puts it:

Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nostrils but cannot smell… Their makers become like them, and so do all who put their trust in them. (Psalm 115)

You cannot worship impersonal forces and remain a person: compassionate, humane, generous, forgiving. Precisely because we believe that G-d is personal, someone to whom we can say ‘You’, we honour human dignity as sacrosanct. Abraham, father of monotheism, knew the paradoxical truth that to live the life of faith is to see the trace of G-d in the face of the stranger. It is easy to receive the Divine presence when G-d appears as G-d. What is difficult is to sense the Divine presence when it comes disguised as three anonymous passers-by. That was Abraham’s greatness. He knew that serving G-d and offering hospitality to strangers were not two things but one.

One of the most beautiful comments on this episode was given by R. Shalom of Belz who noted that in verse 2, the visitors are spoken of as standing above Abraham [nitzavim alav]. In verse 8, Abraham is described as standing above them [omed alehem]. He said: at first, the visitors were higher than Abraham because they were angels and he a mere human being. But when he gave them food and drink and shelter, he stood even higher than the angels. We honour G-d by honouring His image, humankind.
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« Reply #620 on: October 29, 2012, 08:03:59 PM »


I really liked that one.

You may be interested to know that I posted it on my FB page prefaced by the following:



Due to my life in martial arts I have nearly 4,000 FB friends.  The experience of reading posts (well the ones that happen to be near the top at any rate) from such an array of people has been very interesting.

One of the themes that has caught my attention has been the number of people making posts quite hostile to religion.  

Many of these posts express the syllogism that since many wars have been fought over religious matters that if there were no religion then there would be more peace.   Many of these posts express the notion that religious belief is inherently scientifically ignorant.

To the first of these points I would say that it misses the deeper point-- the danger in question is not of religion but what scientist Konrad Lorenz calls "collective militant enthusiasm"-- a subset of the instinctual aggressive drives of the human animal.  This seems to me to be more accurate in that it captures not only religious fanaticism (Aztec human sacrifice, Islamic Fascism, the Inquisition, etc.) but also communism (Stalin killed over twenty million!!!  Mao over sixty million!!!  The Khymer Rouge killed millions too, etc etc etc) and fascism (Hitler)

IMHO this analytical framework also allows us to keep that which is worthy of the worthy religions.   Thus our Founding Fathers defined our rights as coming from our Creator (a term chosen precisely because of its non-preferential nature of any one religion over any other).  

Personally I believe in a Creator and I find no contradiction between that and scientific inquiry.  I am Jewish, but like many Jews I go about it in my own way.  I cheerfully throw out that with which I disagree smiley  Personally I find my hands full with The Ten Commandments!

That said, I have an internet friend named Rachel who posts on the thread "The Power of Word" on our forum at about spiritual matters, usually from a Jewish perspective and often I find myself impressed and moved by the levels revealed; levels of which I had previously been oblivious.

In that spirit I share her most recent posting here.  In my humble opinion it is not necessary that one believe in religion in general or Judiasm in particular to find this worthy of one's time.

The Adventure continues,
« Last Edit: October 29, 2012, 08:43:50 PM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #621 on: October 29, 2012, 08:19:39 PM »


Quote from: Crafty_Dog link=topic=1327.msg67075#msg67075 da ate=1351559039

I really liked that one.

You may be interested to know that I posted it on my FB page prefaced by the following:



Due to my life in martial arts I have nearly 4,000 FB friends.  The experience of reading posts (well the ones that happen to be near the top at any rate) from such an array of people has been very interesting.

One of the themes that has caught my attention has been the number of people making posts quite hostile to religion. 

Many of these posts express the syllogism that since many wars have been fought over religious matters that if there were no religion then there would be more peace.   Many of these posts express the notion that religious belief is inherently scientifically ignorant.

To the first of these points I would say that it misses the deeper point-- the danger in question is not of religion but what scientist Konrad Lorenz calls "collective militant enthusiasm"-- a subset of the instinctual aggressive drives of the human animal.  This seems to me to be more accurate in that it captures not only religious fanaticism (Aztec human sacrifice, Islamic Fascism, the Inquisition, etc.) but also communism (Stalin killed over twenty million!!!  Mao over sixty million!!!  The Khymer Rouge killed millions too, etc etc etc).

IMHO this analytical framework also allows us to keep that which is worthy of the worthy religions.   Thus our Founding Fathers defined our rights as coming from our Creator (a term chosen precisely because of its non-preferential nature of any one religion over any other). 

Personally believe in a Creator.  I am Jewish, but like many Jews I go about it in my own way.  I cheerfully throw out that with which I disagree smiley  Personally I find my hands full with The Ten Commandments!

That said, I have an internet friend named Rachel who posts on the thread "The Power of Word" on our forum at about spiritual matters, usually from a Jewish perspective and often I find myself impressed and moved by the levels revealed; levels of which I had previously been oblivious.

In that spirit I share her most recent posting here.  In my humble opinion it is not necessary that one believe in religion in general or Judiasm in particular to find this worthy of one's time.

The Adventure continues,

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« Reply #622 on: October 30, 2012, 12:22:13 PM »

Thanks for sharing the article.
Marc and GM-- Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you liked it.

It makes sense that it would have universal appeal.  Abraham's goal and Judaism's goal is not to convert people to Judaism. The goal is to spread ethical monotheism to everyone. You do not need to be Jewish to be a good person, to serve G-d or to have a share in the world to come(Heaven).     

The 7 Noachide Laws
The Jewish idea is that the Torah of Moses is a truth for all humanity, whether Jewish or not. The Torah (as explained in the Talmud - Sanhedrin 58b) presents seven mitzvot for non-Jews to observe. These seven laws are the pillars of human civilization, and are named the "Seven Laws of Noah," since all humans are descended from Noah. They are:
Do not murder.
Do not steal.
Do not worship false gods.
Do not be sexually immoral.
Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal.
Do not curse God.
Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.

Maimonides explains that any human being who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven. So you see, the Torah is for all humanity, no conversion necessary.
As well, when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43). The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a "house for all nations." The service in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot featured a total of 70 bull offerings, corresponding to each of the 70 nations of the world. In fact, the Talmud says if the Romans would have realized how much they were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed it!
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« Reply #623 on: October 30, 2012, 12:52:02 PM »


I'm surprised at the presence of "Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal" on this list.  While this is a fine idea no doubt, somehow I'm not getting it as one of the seven pillars of civilization.

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« Reply #624 on: October 30, 2012, 03:14:32 PM »


I'm surprised at the presence of "Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal" on this list.  While this is a fine idea no doubt, somehow I'm not getting it as one of the seven pillars of civilization.


Because a society that tolerates such deliberate cruelty ends up doing such things to humans?
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« Reply #625 on: October 31, 2012, 09:55:56 AM »

How Do You Treat Animals?
By Aron Moss

I have been researching the Seven Noahide Laws. I understand these are the biblical commands to all humanity—the children of Noah—and they provide the basis for ethical living. But looking at the list, there seems to be one that does not fit with the others:

Do not worship idols—agreed, we have to believe in G‑d.
Do not curse G‑d—have respect for Him. I can dig that.
Do not murder—obvious.
Do not steal—okay.
Do not commit adultery—fine.
Set up courts of justice—needed to ensure the other laws are kept.
Do not eat the limb of a living animal.
I am bewildered as to why you would include the seventh law, “Do not eat the limb of a living animal.” While I have no intention of tearing off any animal limbs, I can’t see how that would be in the top seven most important things for all of humanity to observe.

Thank you for any help in enlightening this Noahide!


What is the true test of a moral person? How do you know that someone is truly a good person, and not just preaching?

One test is to observe the way they treat subordinates. Someone who can show concern for those who are lower and more helpless than themselves is a person who is truly good.

And so, in formulating laws for all mankind, the Torah gives seven commandments that are considered seven categories of ethical behavior. The prohibition to steal includes all dishonest and unethical business practices. The outlawing of adultery encompasses all inappropriate relationships. And the ban on eating the limb of a live animal is a general law which commands us to be kind to animals. In fact, Jewish law prohibits inflicting unnecessary pain on animals.

These are not arbitrary categories of law. They cover the full gamut of moral obligation toward our fellow beings: respect for G‑d who is above us, respect for human beings who are equal to us, and respect for the animal kingdom beneath us.

There is a clear hierarchy here. We are not equal with G‑d, and animals are not equal to humans. The myth of equality is necessary only to protect the weak in a world devoid of morality. But moral beings with a clear code of ethics can recognize the innate inequality of nature without exploiting it. Being higher means being more responsible. Nature is here to serve us, but we are here to serve G‑d, and that means treating all His creatures, equal or not, with respect.

Please see more on the Seven Noahide Laws on The Judaism Website.

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Animal Suffering: The Jewish View
Animals and people are kindred spirits, but far from equals.
by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

An additional reason mentioned by the Sages for human treatment of animals is that it cultivates humane conduct toward other people, while inhumane treatment of animals carries the danger of inculcating insensitivity toward others. (Research confirms a connection between people who torture animals as youngsters and those who are violent as adults, though there is no way to tell if there is a causal relationship.)

The Sefer Hachinuch (596) writes: "Among the motivations for this commandment is to accustom ourselves to delicate souls, choosing the straight path and adhering to it, and seeking mercy and kindness. Once we obtain this habit, then even toward animals, which were created to serve us, we will show concern."
And Nachmanides writes: "The reason for refraining [from taking the eggs in the presence of the mother] is to teach us the quality of mercy, and not to act cruelty. For cruelty [toward animals then] spreads into the soul of man [and expresses itself toward people as well]."
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« Reply #626 on: November 02, 2012, 08:47:50 AM »

Value of a Friend's Advice
by Rabbi Zev Leff

Should one seek the advice of a friend who is beneath him?

"And God appeared to him in the plains of Mamre." (Genesis 18:1)

The Midrash relates that when God commanded Avraham to circumcise himself and his entire household, Avraham sought the advice of his three confederates - Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Aner told him that the bris would weaken him and render him vulnerable to attack from relatives of the four kings he had just vanquished. Eshkol stressed that the operation itself, with the attendant loss of blood, was life threatening. Mamre, however, told Avraham that having experienced God's deliverance from Nimrod's furnace and the miraculous victory over four mighty kings, he should trust in God and follow His command. For this advice, Mamre was rewarded by God appearing to Avraham on his estate - "in the plains of Mamre."

There are several difficulties with this Midrash. Most importantly, why did Avraham feel the necessity to seek advice whether or not to fulfill God's command? And if he needed advice, why did he not go to the Yeshiva of Shem or Ever, rather than ask Aner, Eshkol and Mamre? And if two out of the three emphasized the danger involved, why did Avraham listen to Mamre, who stressed the need for trust in God? Finally, why was Mamre rewarded for giving Avraham obvious advice, rather than Aner and Eshkol punished for attempting to dissuade him?

To answer these questions, we must first understand the essence of friendship and the value of a friend. The Sages teach that before God created man, He first consulted with the angels. From this we learn that one should seek advice even from those on a lower spiritual level. Similarly, the commentators to Pirkei Avos (1:6) comment on the teaching "...acquire a friend for yourself" - even one at a lower spiritual level.

But why should one seek the advice of a friend who is beneath him?

Everyone's perspective is highly subjective and biased with respect to all matters concerning himself. His desires blind his eyes from anything other than the object of his desires, and prevent him from weighing the pros and cons objectively. For this reason, writes Meiri in his commentary to Proverbs (20:18), one needs the perspective of someone who is removed from all the subjective biases that cloud one's vision, someone who can weigh the situation without having to contend with a welter of strong desires. A friend need not be at a higher spiritual level, or even as high, to offer valuable advice; he need only be free of the particular desires which render one incapable of objectivity.

So important is objective advice that Rabbeinu Yona (Sha'arei Teshuva 3:53) learns that the prohibition, "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind," applies not just to giving bad advice, but requires us to provide good advice as well. Depriving someone of objective counsel is itself putting a stumbling block before him. Without such counsel he will certainly err.

Rashba in his responsa (1:48) goes a step further. Even if one has already reached a definite decision, Rashba says, he should still seek the advice of others, since it is not only the action which is important, but also the feelings and intentions that go with it.

The purpose of a friend's advice is to provide an objective view of the issue at hand. Therefore the friend must not introduce his own biases, emotions and subjectivity. His task is not to imagine himself with the same dilemma, but rather to ask himself, "If I were he, without his subjective bias, what would I do?"

Avraham never doubted that he would fulfill God's command concerning the bris. Nevertheless he still sought the advice of his three confederates to gain a more objective view of his situation, just as Rashba says one should. And Avraham went precisely to those who could perhaps put themselves in his place, because they themselves had experience with a bris. Because Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre had forged a bond with Avraham, they had the potential to relate to the concept of bris.

Aner and Eshkol did not give him bad advice. In fact, the Midrash never says explicitly that they advised him not to perform the mitzvah. Rather, they considered what they would do if faced with a similar command and advised Avraham accordingly. By focusing on the dangers involved, they in effect advised Avraham to perform the mitzvah with such fears uppermost in his mind. This was not bad advice, but no advice at all because they failed to put themselves into Avraham's position, minus his bias and subjectivity.

Mamre, by contrast, projected himself into Avraham's place and advised him on the basis of Avraham's frame of reference and experience of Divine protection. Hence Avraham's thoughts while undergoing the bris centered on faith and trust that God would assist him in fulfilling this command, as He had assisted him throughout his life.

For freeing himself from his own subjective perspective, Mamre was rewarded by God's appearing in his portion. Objectivity is the precondition for recognition of the truth, i.e. the recognition of God Himself.

Through God's revelation to Avraham in the plains of Mamre, we learn that receiving guests is greater than receiving God's presence, for Avraham interrupted his communion with God to run to greet the three angels disguised as men. Entertaining guests requires consideration of another's needs and shedding one's own narrow subjectivity. The ability to attain objectivity allows perception of the truth of the Divine on a constant basis. Thus the ability to properly treat guests is superior to a one-time revelation of God's presence.

We pray three times a day, "Restore our judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first..." May we all merit to both receive and provide objective advice so that we can live our lives according to the principles of righteousness set down by our judges of old. And in this way, "...God will remove from us sorrow and groaning."

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« Reply #627 on: November 02, 2012, 08:51:02 AM »

Hurricane Sandy
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Why the key to rain remains in God’s hands.

Today was a great reminder.

Here in New York as well as in most of the Northeast of the United States hurricane Sandy, in all of its fury, canceled our schools, closed our bridges, tunnels and transportation systems, shut down the stock market and disrupted our lives in countless ways we never would’ve thought possible.

Ask millions of us yesterday what we were going to do today and staying home would’ve been the most unthinkable answer. After all we had so many plans that simply couldn’t be changed. And yet we suddenly learned the truth of the adage that man proposes and God disposes.

There’s a remarkable passage in the Talmud that gives us a unique insight into the laws of nature. Science has convinced us that the laws of nature are immutable, constant and highly predictable. We can know with certainty exactly when the sun will rise and when it will set in every portion of the globe, not only for today and tomorrow but for years to come. God wanted us to be able to regulate our lives and endowed us with the intellect to make the necessary computations for most of the laws that govern our reality.

But there are three things that God chose to keep hidden from us. These were meant to remain the great mysteries of mankind.

"Rabbi Yochanan taught, there are three keys in the hands of God that are not entrusted to an agent. They are: the key to rain, the key to conception, and the key to revival of the dead.”

Why is it that we can split the atom and land on the moon but still have the weather forecaster get it wrong with almost the same frequency as the result of a toss of the coin? Because God intended for the world to retain some reminders of the limits to our own power.

Three times a day in our prayers we praise God by acknowledging that it is He who “is responsible for life,” “resuscitates the dead” and “makes the wind to blow and the rain to descend.” Much as we try to control these events, our efforts are overshadowed by the Divine will that invariably makes the final decision.

It is a truth we need to remember when we hope for a child and turn to fertility doctors. Their knowledge is vital – but it is far from determinative. It is God who decided to keep everlasting control over the key to conception.

It is a fact that physicians are entrusted with the mission to heal. But whether their efforts will succeed and the patient will live or die is a second key retained by the Almighty.

And remarkably enough, rain – the gift from the heavens that is necessary for human survival but can turn deadly when granted in excessive measure – is the third key that God chose to maintain for constant personal supervision rather than to turn into a predictable law of nature.

As we unexpectedly sit at home during hurricane Sandy, perhaps we ought to reflect upon the Divine message of a storm that has the power to make us change plans that we thought were unalterable.

Related Article: The Fury of Frankenstorm

Where Are You Going?

There is a classic Jewish tale about an old rabbi in Russia, who would visit a synagogue near the town square every morning. Not a day passed that he skipped this routine. An anti-Semitic policeman who hated the sight of the rabbi desperately sought to find a reason to justify imprisoning him.

One morning, as the rabbi approached the town square, the policeman walked up to him and asked, “Sir, may I know where you are going?”

The rabbi replied, “I don’t know.”

The policeman seized on this and said, “Old man, you are lying to me. I know you are going to that synagogue over there. I have seen you every day. I’m going to arrest you for lying to a member of the police force.”

The policeman took the rabbi to the nearest police station and put him in one of the cells. As he was locking the door, the policeman proudly remarked, “Now you foolish man you will realize never again to lie to me.”

The rabbi replied, “My son, I have no idea why you claim I lied to you. I told you I didn’t know where I was going. Indeed I did not – I thought I was going to synagogue but, as you can see, it turned out I was going to jail.”

It is more than a story; it is a parable of our lives. We think we know where we are headed but in truth we can never be certain. And every so often we need to be reminded: God runs the world. God decides whether our appointment calendar will be kept. God has the power to suddenly transform our lives.

And perhaps, in the aftermath of perceiving how disruptive unexpected storms can be, we will also be moved to appreciate in much greater measure how grateful we must be to God when nature returns to its regular laws that normally guarantee us so much blessing.

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« Reply #628 on: November 02, 2012, 10:34:48 AM »

That story of the Russian Rabbi is awesome.
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« Reply #629 on: November 05, 2012, 07:57:04 PM »

Hurricane Sandy: The Aftermath
by Charlie Harary
Sandy brought her game. Now it’s time to bring ours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012. 12:00 am EST

“Hello, 911?”

“Yes. How can we help?”

“There is water outside my house and it is rising fast. It’s already on my first step and I see water bubbling in the middle of the street. I’m not sure what’s happening but I’m scared that my house may fill up with water in the next few hours.”

“Sir, we are looking at your location and our emergency personnel can’t make it down your block.”

“But I have five little children here? What am I supposed to do?”

“We’re sorry sir. We can’t help you. Good luck.”


There I was, staring out my bedroom window with the phone at my ear as water was rushing up my front steps. In the other room, my wife and five children were sound asleep. I stood there overwhelmed. I turned to God and asked for help. Then I ran down the stairs.

Welcome to Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst hurricanes to hit the Northeast, ever. Hundreds injured, over 50 dead. Thousands without homes. Millions without power.

As I sit here in Sandy’s aftermath, sirens screaming in the background and debris in front my house, I keep thinking of one maxim: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Judging by Sandy’s onslaught, there is some serious strength waiting for us. Sandy brought her game, now it’s time to bring ours.

So I decided to make few resolutions.

Related Article: Heroes Everywhere

#1: Be Happy with Normal

I remember when I was 16 years old. I was home on Saturday night with nothing to do, moping around, feeling sorry for myself when my grandparents came over.

“What’s the matter?” my grandmother asked.

“I’m having a bad night, my plans unraveled and I have nothing to do,” I kvetched.

My grandmother, who at my age was in Auschwitz, commented, “Boy, what I would have given to have nothing to do when I was your age.”

Enough said. Checkmate. Perspective gained.

It’s amazing how when our lives are functionally normally, we focus on what we are missing. We run through our days barely paying attention to all the things we have like health, shelter, family, electricity and heat. We are too busy coming and going, buzzing and beeping, thinking and worrying about what more we can get, to slow down and see what we already have.

Then something threatens our “normal.” A loved one gets sick. We encounter tragedy. We are in danger. Almost instantly, we shift perspective. We stop focusing on more. We stop worrying about what’s next. We just want it to go back to “normal.”

My Hurricane Sandy experience began Monday evening. We had been inside the house all day. The winds were howling and the trees were shaking. The lights began to flicker, and then … black.

We lost power. They told us power outages were likely but you can never fully prepare to lose power. It was dark. Real dark. For the next few hours, we slowly felt the effects. No internet, cell phones, heat, hot water, refrigeration. We huddled together. I couldn’t help but think, pray and silently beg for power. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t even care what it was powering; just power.

Power? Who appreciates power? I have never once turned on a light and said, “Wow, power. Amazing!”

But at that moment, that’s all I wanted.

Our Sages define happiness as the ability to take pleasure in what we have, and not pain in what we don’t. Positive Psychology gurus like Tal Ben Shachar speak about the scientific relationship between happiness and gratitude. We all know this, but we never seem to integrate it into our lives.

We live in a time where most of the civilized world enjoys more luxuries than the wealthy elite just decades earlier. We have so much, and yet we just want more. We are waiting for something to make us happy. But there is nothing that can make us happy. Happiness is a choice.

Of course we should strive. Growth is part of our life. But we need to make sure we live with perspective. We have to start to take pleasure in “normal.” We have to start to enjoy life the way we have it. We shouldn’t need a Category 1 hurricane to have us cheer and hug when the lights go back on.

Resolution #1: Every day, notice one thing in my “normal” life and be grateful for it.

Related Article: Huricane Sandy

#2: Trust the Greatness Within

As I stood there, staring out the window, it hit me. No one was coming. No one.

I always thought there would be someone to turn to in times of need. A police officer, firefighter, emergency personnel, family or friend are just a phone call away if the going got rough.

I was wrong.

I was alone, and responsible, and in need of help.

Standing in my room, a thought popped into my mind. A person is never alone. God is not in the sky watching down at the earth. He is Infinite and All-encompassing, in every bit of reality. He is not just “up there,” He is “right here,” the glue holding us together. We all have a depth of strength, wisdom and perseverance that we can draw on. He is with us, always. I prayed that I can find Him, and now.

An idea came to me. Grab the family and run out the back. But before I woke them, I needed to make sure we had a place to go.

I ran down the stairs, out the back door to the backyard. I jumped a tall fence, through a patch of trees and then to the back of a home that faced another street. I climbed the back stairs and saw a window. I banged and banged until someone answered.

Thankfully, they were home and welcoming. Within minutes, I went back to my house, woke my family and then, one by one, retraced our steps until everyone was in the house, safe.

My actions were but a pittance of the courage, heroism and strength brought on during Sandy.

Throughout the storm, thousands of “regular” people tapped into an internal source they may have never previously accessed. Doctors and nurses moved hospitals wards and saved lives. Police and firefighters swam, ran and drove boats to save people from underwater homes. Neighbors, friends and total strangers literally saved people’s lives.

Why? It’s not because crisis breeds heroes. Crisis enables people to bring out the heroism they always had within them.

We are created with a soul that is Divine. Like a well, the more we draw, the more we recognize its depth. Sometimes it takes tragedy to realize how kind, caring and generous we are. Sometimes a crisis reveals the courage, bravery and strength that we never saw before.

Resolution #2: Dare to be great. Every day, set one goal beyond my perceived limitations and go for it. Push to see how much potential I really have.

Related Article: Slovie’s Hurricane Sandy Diary

3. Restructure Your Life to Align with your Priorities

Famed author and speaker, Dr. Stephen Covey, ran a seminar where he invited people to place different size rocks into a bucket. After multiple failed attempts to get all the rocks in, Covey demonstrated how to do it. He started with the big rocks and after careful placement, all the rocks fit. He turned to the audience and surmised: “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in."

How many times do we feel overwhelmed but unfulfilled? Busy but out of control? Sensing that life should feel different than it currently does. The reason is that, many times, our lives don’t align with our priorities. We are out of balance and we feel it.

There is nothing like a crisis to realign our actions to our priorities.

After I secured the safety of my family, I headed back home to get some basic items. On the way back in, I surveyed the damage. My car was under water, my home was filling up. I realized that this storm may wipe out my possessions.

I tried to be upset but I couldn’t. I didn’t care. Not even a bit. I knew I would care tomorrow, but for tonight, there were more important things. I rushed to collect diapers, water, socks and pajamas and headed back to my family. Stuff is what it is, stuff. For tonight, it didn’t make the top of my list.

How many times do our loved ones get rescheduled for our work? How many conversations did we miss even though we were physically there? How many family members get less attention than our hobbies?

And we wonder why we feel unfulfilled.

There is a family in my neighborhood that awoke to water gushing into their home. They climbed to their attic until they were rescued hours later. The next day, I saw the father walking with his kids. He had a gym bag of his possessions. His house was under water. I asked him how he was. He responded “Thank God, everything is great!” Seeing my facial response, he continued, “I’m not sure if I have a house, but I have my wife and kids. That’s all I need.”

Lesson #3: Each day, hug each kid, tight. Pick a family member to call to say I love you.

#4: Giving is what makes the world go ‘round

“The world was built on kindness” (Psalms 89:3)

As we sat in my neighbor’s house, I couldn’t help but smile. We were practically strangers. Yet their outpouring of support was amazing. They made us feel as welcome as can be. They brought food, water and blankets. We made quite a mess and a ruckus, and they were not bothered in the slightest.

Giving feels better than taking because giving is a Divine quality, and the more Godly we act, the better it feels.

There is something about crisis that brings out the best in many of us. Deep down, we know we are one people. During “normal” times, it’s easy to focus on the differences. It’s easy to entrench and protect ourselves. But when our normal is threatened, we realize that we need each other. Our differences are eclipsed by are similarities. We are free to be our true selves. We are free to give.

The day after the storm, I walked up the street. People were outside their homes offering help to each other. We were sharing sub pumps and wet-vacs. One woman, whose house was spared, drove by and brought us groceries. Someone else dropped off a pie of pizza. At night, a friend stopped by with heaters. Families moved in with others. Our phones are buzzing with well-wishers.

Resolution #4: The next time I have an opportunity to give, I will just give.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012. 9:00 am EST

I walked outside my home to survey the damage. The streets were still filled with water. Coast guard boats were evacuating people from their homes. Sirens were blaring down the streets.

“What happens now, Daddy?” my son asked.

“There is only one place to go from here,” I answered.


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« Reply #630 on: November 06, 2012, 08:53:58 AM »

A Moment of Life   Cheshvan 21, 5773 • November 6, 2012
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
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People talk about “wasting time,” or even about “killing time.” Neither term is accurate. Time awaits you to give it life.
A moment flashes into existence, anticipating your breath of life. After all, for this purpose you came here, to be at this time, in this moment, so that you will make it a living moment, a moment that has meaning, and a meaning connected to the One who created time itself.
Grant it that life, and this moment will endure forever. Fail to do so, and it has already left, as a moment that never was.
Abraham, we are told, was “come of days,” meaning that he entered into every day with his entire being. You too, must strive to to make every moment a moment of life.
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« Reply #631 on: November 07, 2012, 07:48:15 AM »

Why Does a Good G‑d Make Bad Hurricanes?
By Tzvi Freeman

When I took this job at Ask-The-Rabbi, I didn’t realize I was supposed to be G‑d’s defense attorney. But for whatever reason, people intuitively see religion as a comfort pillow, a set of answers to questions that will set everything alright so that they can go on living within a stable, explicable world knowing that some rabbi at the other end of their mobile device will have an answer to whatever’s gone wrong.

Enough griping, Freeman. People are cold, wet, hungry and exhausted. They’ve lost their homes, their possessions—their whole future has been abruptly and violently pulled out from under them. And they want you to explain to them how, despite all external appearances, Hurricane Sandy was an act of G‑d, and not just a freak incident of some indifferent entity called nature.

C’mon, Freeman. Torah’s gotta have an answer to that.

Whose Garden Is This?

One of the first narratives we heard as kids in Hebrew School is how Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden. Nice, simple story, right? No, please, no. The story is deep, so very, very deep.

Creator makes earth. He likes the earth He made. It’s good. He makes Adam. He likes the Adam critter, too. He’s very good. So He puts the Adam in a beautiful garden with dates, almonds and figs for the picking, lovely rivers in which to bathe, a controlled climate system, caressed gently by a warm, distant ball of fire by day, and a not-so-distant semi-reflective device by night. He split the Adam in two, because loneliness was deemed “not good,” and blessed them to be fruitful and multiply, as stewards of this beautiful garden custom-designed just for them.

But the Adam critters are not satisfied with tending to someone else’s garden in which they have no say and just have to follow the rules. The Adam critters have this need to feel their own sense of being, to have their own lives; in a certain way to be like the Creator Himself. And they let their Creator know that, with just one mischievous deed—and a lot of blaming.

But the Adam critters are not satisfied with taking care of someone else's garden. They want their own lives, with their own world.
So the Creator says, “Okay, you want your own lives. Not a bad idea. But then you’ll need to have your own world as well. So I’ll give you a wild, bucking-bronco world, and you’ll have the responsibility of taking care of it, and taking care of yourself inside it. And then you too will have some of the sense of being a Creator.”

And with that the Adam critter, which is us, is sent out of the garden, “to work the earth from which he was taken.”

It is still very much a controlled earth, by far the mildest of planets we’ve observed with any telescope. A thin, translucent cloak shields life from harsh cosmic rays, while carrying just the right trace of carbon to retain its warmth. It juggles that carbon, along with nitrogen and water in perpetual life-giving cycles, turning air into living organisms that breathe back life into the air. Winds moderate temperatures, while carry moisture from the seas, casting gentle flakes upon the mountains, and descend in the warmer seasons to water the plains and valleys. That semi-reflective device also works nicely to provide a cycle of tides that marry together the seas and the dry land. Magnificent, beautiful, beyond ingenious.

But the system is not always so friendly. And there come those times when it downright turns blindly against us, as though we don’t exist. We find ourselves rendered helpless before a force much greater than us. Suddenly, we are small. Suddenly it hits us that, hey, we didn’t make this place. And we don’t control it, either.

Yet, it is at these times that we must ourselves become G‑dly. Because we are being forced to take responsibility for our own world. The environmental scientists will argue over whether this has to do with us tipping that delicate balance of carbon in the atmosphere. One thing I know for sure: We have to clean up the mess our fellow Adam critters are in, and we have to build a world that disasters like this cannot so easily tumble.

Being G-dly

What I’m not going to say is that it’s just nature, things like this just happen. Like Maimonides writes, people who say “things just happen” are cruel people. Why cruel? Because they’re robbing from others the opportunity to lift themselves up, from entire communities the opportunity to transform. To realize that “things happen” because there’s a Creator, and we are His creations with an assignment. We’re here to make this world, and all those in it, know how G‑dly it is.

Look at what’s happening today in the seaside neighborhoods of New York and New Jersey. Communities are being forced to build themselves back up. Let me tell you this: No outside agency is going to be able to do all that for them. If anyone can do it, it’s the community itself.

I’m hearing from Chabad rabbis whose homes and centers were wiped out, and they’re running around getting meals to seniors, generators to cold homes and bringing in busloads of volunteers to clean out the sand and muck and deliver meals. Sure, there’s a truck down the street where people are lining up to get food packages, but how are people stuck in their apartments without a phone supposed to know? There’s an American Army, there’s FEMA, there’s the Red Cross—but sometimes it takes someone like this little, bearded guy who knows the streets, knows the people, is trusted by them, and who feels his destiny is tied to theirs, to pick up their spirits and get them to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Hey, when you’re without phone, electricity, heat or transportation, the grocery stores are in ruins and there’s nowhere to grab a meal, and you look down the stairs at a muck-saturated clump of everything you ever saved, your clothes, your books, your family heirlooms, and it’s all gone, all gone—it’s no small deal when the local rabbi drops by with a kosher meal, some news from the outside world, and you can pour your heart out to him. Life becomes once again a viable option.

Are You Comfy Yet?

Does that answer the question? Does that make you feel all comfy, because everything is explained, including hurricanes, tsunamis and the Creator of the universe?

I hope not. Because it’s not supposed to. Torah is not G‑d’s defense portfolio. It’s His instructions to us, telling us what we’re here for and what we’re supposed to do right now. Every mitzvah you do, from wrapping tefillin to lighting candles before Shabbat, is included in instructions to fix the world, right now.

Right now, the best thing you can do is get a truckload of generators, power cables, heaters and sandwiches, drive into one of those seaside neighborhoods with a few friends, and yell out, “Anyone need help? Anyone need a generator or heater at cost price? Anyone need a few hands to shovel out the sand?” Then go into apartment buildings and knock on doors.

If you can’t, and even if you can, you can help out our men and women on the scene, integral members of those communities, some of whom have lost everything, and yet are dedicated to get their entire community back on its feet. One way to do that is through our Hurricane Sandy Emergency Relief Fund.

But please don't stop there. Like I said, it's a deeply intertwined ecosystem in which every mitzvah of the Torah has its vital place in healing the world—and here are ten great starting points.

And here’s a photo essay I made back when Katrina hit, saying pretty much the same thing: We’re not here to explain G‑d. We’re here to act G‑dly. And to make this a G‑dly world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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« Reply #632 on: November 11, 2012, 07:10:29 PM »

COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Chayei Sarah – Hopes and Fears

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
Sedra means torah portion and this is actual last weeks

The sedra of Chayei Sarah focuses on two episodes, both narrated at length and in intricate detail. Abraham buys a field with a cave as a burial place for Sarah, and he instructs his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. Why these two events? The simple answer is because they happened. That, however, cannot be all. We misunderstand Torah if we think of it as a book that tells us what happened. That is a necessary but not sufficient explanation of biblical narrative. The Torah, by identifying itself as Torah, defines its own genre. It is not a history book. It is Torah, meaning “teaching.” It tells us what happened only when events that occurred then have a bearing on what we need to know now. What is the “teaching” in these two episodes? It is an unexpected one.

Abraham, the first bearer of the covenant, receives two promises – both stated five times. The first is of a land. Time and again he is told, by G-d, that the land to which he has travelled – Canaan – will one day be his.

(1)   Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. (12:7)

(2)   The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north, south, east and west. All the land that you see, I will give you and your offspring forever . . . Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (13: 14-17)

(3)  Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees to give you this land to take possession of it.” (15: 7)

(4)  On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (15: 18-21)

(5)  “I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your G-d and the god of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give you as an everlasting possession to you and to your descendants after you; and I will be their G-d.” (17: 7-8)

The second was the promise of children, also stated five times:

(1)   “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” (12: 2)

(2)   “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” (13: 16)

(3)  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (15: 5)

(4)  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” (17: 4-5)

(5)  “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (22: 17)

These are remarkable promises. The land in its length and breadth will be Abraham’s and his children’s as “an everlasting possession.” Abraham will have as many children as the dust of the earth, the stars of the sky, and the sand on the sea-shore. He will be the father, not of one nation, but of many. What, though, is the reality by the time Sarah dies? Abraham owns no land and has only one son (he had another, Ishmael, but was told that he would not be the bearer of the covenant).

The significance of the two episodes is now clear. First, Abraham undergoes a lengthy bargaining process with the Hittites to buy a field with a cave in which to bury Sarah. It is a tense, even humiliating, encounter. The Hittites say one thing and mean another. As a group they say, “Sir, listen to us. You are a prince of G-d in our midst. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs.” Ephron, the owner of the field Abraham wishes to buy, says: “Listen to me, I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” As the narrative makes clear, this elaborate generosity is a façade for some extremely hard bargaining. Abraham knows he is “an alien and a stranger among you,” meaning, among other things, that he has no right to own land. That is the force of their reply which, stripped of its overlay of courtesy, means: “Use one of our burial sites. You may not acquire your own.” Abraham is not deterred. He insists that he wants to buy his own. Ephron’s reply – “It is yours. I give it to you” – is in fact the prelude to a demand for an inflated price: four hundred silver shekels. At last, however, Abraham owns the land. The final transfer of ownership is recorded in precise legal prose (23: 17-20) to signal that, at last, Abraham owns part of the land. It is a small part: one field and a cave. A burial place, bought at great expense. That is all of the Divine promise of the land that Abraham will see in his lifetime.

The next chapter, one of the longest in the Mosaic books, tells of Abraham’s concern that Isaac should have a wife. He is – we must assume – at least 37 years old (his age at Sarah’s death) and still unmarried. Abraham has a child but no grandchild —no posterity. As with the purchase of the cave, so here: acquiring a daughter-in-law will take much money and hard negotiation. The servant, on arriving in the vicinity of Abraham’s family, immediately finds the girl, Rebecca, before he has even finished praying for G-d’s help to find her. Securing her release from her family is another matter. He brings out gold, silver, and clothing for the girl. He gives her brother and mother costly gifts. The family have a celebratory meal. But when the servant wants to leave, brother and mother say, “Let the girl stay with us for another year or ten [months].” Laban, Rebecca’s brother, plays a role not unlike that of Ephron: the show of generosity conceals a tough, even exploitative, determination to make a profitable deal. Eventually patience pays off. Rebecca leaves. Isaac marries her. The covenant will continue.

These are, then, no minor episodes. They tell a difficult story. Yes, Abraham will have a land. He will have countless children. But these things will not happen soon, or suddenly, or easily. Nor will they occur without human effort. To the contrary, only the most focused willpower will bring them about. The divine promise is not what it first seemed: a statement that G-d will act. It is in fact a request, an invitation, from G-d to Abraham and his children that they should act. G-d will help them. The outcome will be what G-d said it would. But not without total commitment from Abraham’s family against what will sometimes seem to be insuperable obstacles.

A land: Israel. And children: Jewish continuity. The astonishing fact is that today, four thousand years later, they remain the dominant concerns of Jews throughout the world – the safety and security of Israel as the Jewish home, and the future of the Jewish people. Abraham’s hopes and fears are ours. (Is there any other people, I wonder, whose concerns today are what they were four millennia ago? The identity through time is awe inspiring.) Now as then, the divine promise does not mean that we can leave the future to G-d. That idea has no place in the imaginative world of the first book of the Torah. To the contrary: the covenant is G-d’s challenge to us, not ours to G-d. The meaning of the events of Chayei Sarah is that Abraham realised that G-d was depending on him. Faith does not mean passivity. It means the courage to act and never to be deterred. The future will happen, but it is we – inspired, empowered, given strength by the promise—who must bring it about.
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« Reply #633 on: November 11, 2012, 07:18:39 PM »

On this Veteran's day, those of us who benefit from the great blessings of this land remember, salute and pray for those who fought and those who died so that this ever aspiring symbol of freedom might endure.
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« Reply #634 on: November 11, 2012, 10:08:09 PM »


I really like the levels of understanding that are revealed in your posts.

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« Reply #635 on: November 13, 2012, 11:02:48 AM »

Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

In each journey of your life you must be where you are. You may only be passing through on your way to somewhere else seemingly more important—nevertheless, there is purpose in where you are right now.
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« Reply #636 on: November 14, 2012, 04:54:21 PM »


I'm really glad you enjoyed the piece.

The month of Kislev starts at sundown tonight and the first night of Hanukah is  25th of Kislev-- December 8th
Hope in Hell
by S. B. Unsdorfer

We had been helped by God, even in this forsaken little camp at Nieder-Orschel.

Excerpted from The Yellow Star by S. B. Unsdorfer

After having survived the horrors of Auschwitz, Simche Unsdorfer was transported to Nieder-Orschel and put to work making aeroplane wings for the German Luftwaffe. It is in this camp that the following story took place.

When writing the little diary in which I entered the Hebrew dates and Festivals, I discovered with great delight that Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the festival on which we commemorate the recapture of the Temple from the mighty Greeks by a handful of faithful Jews, was only a few days ahead. I decided that we should light a little Chanukah lamp even in Nieder-Orschel, and that this would go a long way towards restoring our morale.

Benzi was immediately consulted because he had become the most reliable and trusted person in the block. Even those at the other two tables came to Benzi to settle their quarrels, which were mostly about the distribution of their rations. Benzi would stand no arguments at his own table. He cut every loaf into eight portions and shared it out indiscriminately. He who complained, received the smallest portion. “If you are dissatisfied,” Benzi would shout angrily, “go and join another table, where they have scales and judges.” Nobody ever left our table.

Benzi was enthusiastic about my idea. “Yes, we should get a Chanukah light burning,” he said. “It will boost our morale and lighten the atmosphere. Work on a plan, but be careful.”

Two problems had to be overcome: oil had to be “organised” and a place had to be found where the lighted wick would not be seen. The was no lack of oil in the factory, but how could we smuggle even a few drops into our barrack in time for Monday evening, December 11, the first night of Chanukah?

We knew, of course, that Jewish law did not compel us to risk our lives for the sake of fulfilling a commandment. But there was an urge in many of us to reveal the spirit of sacrifice implanted in our ancestors throughout the ages. We who were in such great spiritual as well as physical distress felt that a little Chanukah light would warm our starving souls and inspire us with hope, faith and courage to keep us going through this long, grim and icy winter.

Benzi, Grunwald, Stern, Fischof and I were in the plot. We decided to draw lots. The first name drawn would have to steal the oil; the third would be responsible for it and hide it until Monday evening; the fifth would have to light it under his bunk. I was drawn fifth.

Grunwald, who was to “organise” the oil, did his part magnificently. He persuaded the hated Meister Meyer that his machine would work better if oiled regularly every morning, and that his could best be arranged if a small can of fine machine oil was allotted to us to be kept in our toolbox. Meister Meyer agreed, so there was no longer the problem of having to hide it.

On Monday evening after Appell, everyone else sat down to his much awaited portion of tasteless but hot soup, while I busied myself under the bunk to prepare my Menorah. I put the oil in the empty half of a shoe-polish tin, took a few threads from my thin blanket and made them into a wick. When everything was ready I hastily joined the table to eat my dinner before I invited all our friends to the Chanukah Light Kindling ceremony. Suddenly, as I was eating my soup, I remembered we had forgotten about matches. I whispered to Benzi. “Everyone must leave a little soup,“ Benzi ordered his hungry table guests, and told them why. Within five minutes, five portions of soup were exchanged in the next room for a cigarette. The cigarette was “presented” to the chef, Joseph, for lending us a box of matches without questions.

And so, as soon as dinner was over I made the three traditional blessings, and a little Chanukah light flickered away slowly under my bunk. Not only my friends were there with us, but also many others from the room joined us in humming the traditional Chanukah songs. These songs carried us into the past. As if on a panoramic screen, we saw our homes, with our parents, brothers, sisters, wives, and children gathered round the beautiful silver candelabras, singing happily the Maoz Tzur. That tiny little light under my bunk set our hearts ablaze. Tears poured down our haggard cheeks. By now, every single inmate in the room sat silently on his bunk, or near mine, deeply meditating. For a moment, nothing else mattered. We were celebrating the first night of Chanukah as we had done in all the years previous to our imprisonment and torture. We were a group of Jewish people fulfilling our religious duties, and dreaming of home and of bygone years.

But alas! Our dream ended much too soon. A roar of “Achtung” brought our minds back to reality, and our legs to stiff attention. “The Dog” - that skinny little Unterschaarfuehrer - stood silently at the door, as he so often did on his surprise visits, looking anxiously for some excuse, even the slightest, to wield his dog-whip. Suddenly he sniffed as loudly as his Alsatian and yelled “Hier stinkts ja von Oehl!” (“It stinks of oil in here!”).

My heart missed a few beats as I stared down at the little Chanukah light flickering away, while “The Dog” and his Alsatian began to parade along the bunks in search of the burning oil.

The Unterschaarfuehrer silently began his search. I did not dare bend down or stamp out the light with my shoes for fear the Alsatian would notice my movements and leap at me. I gave a quick glance at the death-pale faces round me, and so indeed did “The Dog”. Within a minute or two he would reach our row of bunks. Nothing could save us…but suddenly…

Suddenly a roar of sirens, sounding an air raid, brought “The Dog” to a stop and within seconds all lights in the entire camp were switched off from outside. “Fliegeralarm! Fliegeralarm!” echoed throughout the camp! Like lightning I snuffed out the light with my shoes and following a strict camp rule, we all ran to the open ground, brushing “The Dog” contemptuously aside. “There will be an investigation…There will be an investigation,” he screamed above the clatter of rushing prisoners who fled out into the Appell ground. But I did not worry. In delight I grabbed my little Menorah and ran out with it. This was the sign, the miracle of Chanukah, the recognition of our struggle against the temptations of our affliction. We had been helped by God, even in this forsaken little camp at Nieder-Orschel.

Outside, in the ice-cold, star-studded night, with the heavy drone of Allied bombers over our heads, I kept on muttering the traditional blessing to the God who wrought miracles for His people in past days and in our own time. The bombers seemed to be spreading these words over the host of heaven.
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« Reply #637 on: November 16, 2012, 10:27:36 AM »

COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Toldot – Between Prophecy and Oracle
Rebecca, hitherto infertile, became pregnant. Suffering acute pain, “she went to inquire of the Lord” [vatelekh lidrosh et Hashem] (Bereishit 25:22). The explanation she received was that she was carrying twins who were contending in her womb. They were destined to do so long into the future:

Two nations are in your womb,

And two peoples from within you will be separated;

One people will be stronger than the other,

And the older will serve the younger [ve-rav ya’avod tsa’ir]. (Bereishit 25: 23)

Eventually the twins are born – first Esau, then (his hand grasping his brother’s heel) Jacob. Mindful of the prophecy she has received, Rebecca favours the younger son, Jacob. Years later, she persuades him to dress in Esau’s clothes and take the blessing Isaac intended to give his elder son. One verse of that blessing was “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.” (Bereishit 26:29) The prediction has been fulfilled. Isaac’s blessing can surely mean nothing less than what was disclosed to Rebecca before either child was born, namely that “the older will serve the younger.” The story has apparently reached closure, or so, at this stage, it seems.

But biblical narrative is not what it seems. Two events follow which subvert all that we had been led to expect. The first happens when Esau arrives and discovers that Jacob has cheated him out of his blessing. Moved by his anguish, Isaac gives him a benediction, one of whose clauses is:

You will live by your sword

And you will serve your brother.

But when you grow restless,

You will throw his yoke from off your neck. (Bereishit 27: 40)

This is not what we had anticipated. The older will not serve the younger in perpetuity.

The second scene, many years later, occurs when the brothers meet after a long estrangement. Jacob is terrified of the encounter. He had fled from home years earlier because Esau had vowed to kill him. Only after a long series of preparations and a lonely wrestling match at night is he able to face Esau with some composure. He bows down to him seven times. Seven times he calls him “my lord.” Five times he refers to himself as “your servant.” The roles have been reversed. Esau does not become the servant of Jacob. Instead, Jacob speaks of himself as the servant of Esau. But this cannot be. The words heard by Rebecca when “she went to inquire of the Lord” suggested precisely the opposite, that “the older will serve the younger.” We are faced with cognitive dissonance.

More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all the Torah’s narrative devices – the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past. This is the essence of Midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text (see the essay ‘The Midrashic Imagination’ by Michael Fishbane). The present is never fully determined by the present. Sometimes it is only later that we understand now.

This is the significance of the great revelation of G-d to Moses in Shemot 33:33, where G-d says that only His back may be seen – meaning, His presence can be seen only when we look back at the past; it can never be known or predicted in advance. The indeterminacy of meaning at any given moment is what gives the biblical text its openness to ongoing interpretation.

We now see that this was not an idea invented by the sages. It already exists in the Torah itself. The words Rebecca heard – as will now become clear – seemed to mean one thing at the time. It later transpires that they meant something else.

The words ve-rav yaavod tsair seem simple: “the older will serve the younger.” Returning to them in the light of subsequent events, though, we discover that they are anything but clear. They contain multiple ambiguities.

The first (noted by Radak and R. Yosef ibn Kaspi) is that the word et, signalling the object of the verb, is missing. Normally in biblical Hebrew the subject precedes, and the object follows, the verb, but not always. In Job 14:19 for example, the words avanim shachaku mayim mean “water wears away stones,” not “stones wear away water.” Thus the phrase might mean “the older shall serve the younger” but it might also mean “the younger shall serve the older”. To be sure, the latter would be poetic Hebrew rather than conventional prose style, but that is what this utterance is: a poem.

The second is that rav and tsa’ir are not opposites, a fact disguised by the English translation of rav as “older.” The opposite of tsa’ir (“younger”) is bechir (“older” or “firstborn”). Rav does not mean “older.” It means “great” or possibly “chief.” This linking together of two terms as if they were polar opposites, which they are not – the opposites would have been bechir/tsa’ir or rav/me’at – further destabilises the meaning. Who was the rav? The elder? The leader? The chief? The more numerous? The word might mean any of these things.

The third – not part of the text but of later tradition – is the musical notation. The normal way of notating these three words would be mercha-tipcha-sof pasuk. This would support the reading, “the older shall serve the younger.” In fact, however, they are notated tipcha-mercha-sof pasuk – suggesting, “the older, shall the younger serve”; in other words, “the younger shall serve the older.”

A later episode adds a yet another retrospective element of doubt. There is a second instance in Bereishit of the birth of twins, to Tamar (Bereishit 38:27-30). The passage is clearly reminiscent of the story of Esau and Jacob:

When her time was come, there were twins in her womb, and while she was in labour one of them put out a hand. The midwife took a scarlet thread and fastened it round the wrist, saying, “This one appeared first.” No sooner had he drawn back his hand, than his brother came out, and the midwife said, “What! You have broken out first!” So he was named Perez. Soon afterwards his brother was born with the scarlet thread on his wrist, and he was named Zerah.

Who then was the elder? And what does this imply in the case of Esau and Jacob? (See Rashi to 25: 26 who suggests that Jacob was in fact the elder.) These multiple ambiguities are not accidental but integral to the text. The subtlety is such, that we do not notice them at first. Only later, when the narrative does not turn out as expected, are we forced to go back and notice what at first we missed: that the words Rebecca heard may mean “the older will serve the younger” or “the younger will serve the older.”

A number of things now become clear. The first is that this is a rare example in the Torah of an oracle as opposed to a prophecy (this is the probable meaning of the word chidot in Bamidbar 12: 8, speaking about Moses: “With him I speak mouth to mouth, openly and not in chidot” — usually translated as “dark speeches” or “riddles”). Oracles – a familiar form of supernatural communication in the ancient world – were normally obscure and cryptic, unlike the normal form of Israelite prophecy. This may well be the technical meaning of the phrase “she went to inquire of the Lord” which puzzled the medieval commentators.

The second – and this is fundamental to an understanding of Bereishit – is that the future is never as straightforward as we are led to believe. Abraham is promised many children but has to wait years before Isaac is born. The patriarchs are promised a land but do not acquire it in their lifetimes. The Jewish journey, though it has a destination, is long and has many digressions and setbacks. Will Jacob serve or be served? We do not know. Only after a long, enigmatic struggle alone at night does Jacob receive the name Israel meaning, “he who struggles with G-d and with men and prevails.”

The most important message of this text is both literary and theological. The future affects our understanding of the past. We are part of a story whose last chapter has not yet been written. That rests with us, as it rested with Jacob.
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« Reply #638 on: November 19, 2012, 07:08:43 PM »

COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Vayetze – Encountering G-d

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

It is one of the great visions of the Torah. Jacob, alone at night, fleeing from the wrath of Esau, lies down to rest, and sees not a nightmare of fear but an epiphany:

He came to a certain place [vayifga bamakom] and stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream. He saw a ladder resting on the earth, with its top reaching heaven. G-d’s angels were going up and down on it. There above it stood G-d . . .

Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “G-d is truly in this place, but I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d; this is the gate of heaven.” (28:11-17)

On the basis of this passage the sages said that “Jacob instituted the evening prayer.” The inference is based on the word vayifga which can mean not only, “he came to, encountered, happened upon” but also “he prayed, entreated, pleaded” as in Jeremiah 7: 16, “Neither lift up cry nor prayer for them nor make intercession to Me [ve-al tifga bi].”

The sages also understood the word bamakom, “the place” to mean “G-d” (the “place” of the universe). Thus Jacob completed the cycle of daily prayers. Abraham instituted shacharit, the morning prayer, Isaac minchah, the afternoon prayer, and Jacob arvit, the prayer of nighttimes.

This is a striking idea. Though each of the weekday prayers is identical in wording, each bears the character of one of the patriarchs. Abraham represents morning. He is the initiator, the one who introduced a new religious consciousness to the world. With him a day begins. Isaac represents afternoon. There is nothing new about Isaac – no major transition from darkness to light or light to darkness. Many of the incidents in Isaac’s life recapitulate those of his father. Famine forces him, as it did Abraham, to go to the land of the Philistines. He re-digs his father’s wells. Isaac’s is the quiet heroism of continuity. He is a link in the chain of the covenant. He joins one generation to the next. He introduces nothing new into the life of faith, but his life has its own nobility. Isaac is steadfastness, loyalty, the determination to continue. Jacob represents night. He is the man of fear and flight, the man who wrestles with G-d, with others and with himself. Jacob is one who knows the darkness of this world.

There is, however, a difficulty with the idea that Jacob introduced the evening prayer. In a famous episode in the Talmud, Rabbi Joshua takes the view that, unlike shacharit or minchah, the evening prayer is not obligatory (though, as the commentators note, it has become obligatory through the acceptance of generations of Jews). Why, if it was instituted by Jacob, was it not held to carry the same obligation as the prayers of Abraham and Isaac? Tradition offers three answers.

The first is that the view that arvit is non-obligatory according to those who hold that our daily prayers are based, not on the patriarchs but on the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple. There was a morning and afternoon offering but no evening sacrifice. The two views differ precisely on this, that for those who trace prayer to sacrifice, the evening prayer is voluntary, whereas for those who base it on the patriarchs, it is obligatory.

The second is that there is a law that those on a journey (and for three days thereafter) are exempt from prayer. In the days when journeys were hazardous – when travellers were in constant fear of attack by raiders – it was impossible to concentrate. Prayer requires concentration (kavanah). Therefore Jacob was exempt from prayer, and offered up his entreaty not as an obligation but as a voluntary act – and so it remained.

The third is that there is a tradition that, as Jacob was travelling, “the sun set suddenly” – not at its normal time. Jacob had intended to say the afternoon prayer, but found, to his surprise, that night had fallen. Arvit did not become an obligation, since Jacob had not meant to say an evening prayer at all.

There is, however, a more profound explanation. A different linguistic construction is used for each of the three occasions that the sages saw as the basis of prayer. Abraham “rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before G-d” (19:27). Isaac “went out to meditate [lasuach] in the field towards evening” (24:63). Jacob “met, encountered, came across” G-d [vayifga bamakom]. These are different kinds of religious experience.

Abraham initiated the quest for G-d. He was a creative religious personality – the father of all those who set out on a journey of the spirit to an unknown destination, armed only with the trust that those who seek, find. Abraham sought G-d before G-d sought him.

Isaac’s prayer is described as a sichah, literally, a conversation or dialogue. There are two parties to a dialogue – one who speaks and one who listens, and having listened, responds. Isaac represents the religious experience as conversation between the word of G-d and the word of mankind.

Jacob’s prayer is very different. He does not initiate it. His thoughts are elsewhere – on Esau from whom he is escaping, and on Laban to whom he is travelling. Into this troubled mind comes a vision of G-d and the angels and a stairway connecting earth and heaven. He has done nothing to prepare for it. It is unexpected. Jacob literally “encounters” G-d as we can sometimes encounter a familiar face among a crowd of strangers. This is a meeting brought about by G-d, not man. That is why Jacob’s prayer could not be made the basis of a regular obligation. None of us knows when the presence of G-d will suddenly intrude into our lives.

There is an element of the religious life that is beyond conscious control. It comes out of nowhere, when we are least expecting it. If Abraham represents our journey towards G-d, and Isaac our dialogue with G-d, Jacob signifies G-d’s encounter with us – unplanned, unscheduled, unexpected; the vision, the voice, the call we can never know in advance but which leaves us transformed. As for Jacob so for us, it feels as if we are waking from a sleep and realising as if for the first time that “G-d was in this place and I did not know it.” The place has not changed, but we have. Such an experience can never be made the subject of an obligation. It is not something we do. It is something that happens to us. Vayfiga bamakom means that, thinking of other things, we find that we have walked into the presence of G-d.

Such experiences take place, literally or metaphorically, at night. They happen when we are alone, afraid, vulnerable, close to despair. It is then that, when we least expect it, we can find our lives flooded by the radiance of the divine. Suddenly, with a certainty that is unmistakable, we know that we are not alone, that G-d is there and has been all along but that we were too preoccupied by our own concerns to notice Him. That is how Jacob found G-d – not by his own efforts, like Abraham; not through continuous dialogue, like Isaac; but in the midst of fear and isolation. Jacob, in flight, trips and falls – and finds he has fallen into the waiting arms of G-d. No one who has had this experience, ever forgets it. “Now I know that You were with me all the time but I was looking elsewhere.”

That was Jacob’s prayer. There are times when we speak and times when we are spoken to. Prayer is not always predictable, a matter of fixed times and daily obligation. It is also an openness, a vulnerability. G-d can take us by surprise, waking us from our sleep, catching us as we fall.
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« Reply #639 on: November 20, 2012, 02:38:13 PM »

A Ladder to Heaven
By Yossy Goldman

So what's the best way to get to heaven? Walk across a busy highway? Perform some amazing act of faith? Save a thousand lives? Well, a pretty good answer may be found in this week's Parshah.

We read the story of Jacob's dream and the famous ladder with its feet on the ground and head in the heavens. "And behold the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it."

Let me ask you what they might call in Yiddish, a klotz kashe (simplistic question). Do angels need a ladder? Everyone knows angels have wings, not feet. So, if you have wings, why would you need a ladder?

There is a beautiful message here.

In climbing heavenward one does not necessarily need wings. Dispense with the dramatic. Forget about fancy leaps and bounds. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that needs to be traversed step-by-step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical and eminently manageable.

Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which to them seems otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the journey can be embarked upon and that the destination aspired to is actually not in outer space.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I would pass a very big building on my way to school every morning. It was the King's County Savings Bank. All these years later I still remember the Chinese proverb that was engraved over the large portals at the entrance to the bank. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step." Now that's not only Chinese wisdom; we Jews agree. And it's not limited to starting a savings plan. It is a simple yet powerful idea that it need not be "all or nothing."

What do you think is a rabbi's fantasy? A guy walking into my office and saying, "Rabbi, I want to become 'frum' (fully observant), now tell me what I must do"? Is that what I lie awake dreaming of? And if it did happen, do you think I would throw the book at him and insist he did every single mitzvah from that moment on? Never! Why not? Because a commitment like that is usually here today and gone tomorrow. Like the popular saying goes, "Easy come, easy go." I'm afraid I haven't had such wonderful experiences with the "instant Jew" types. The correct and most successful method of achieving our Jewish objectives is the slow and steady approach. Gradual, yet consistent. As soon as one has become comfortable with one mitzvah, it is time to start on the next, and so on and so forth. Then, through constant growth, slowly but surely we become more knowledgeable, committed, fulfilled and happy in our faith.

When my father was in yeshiva, his teacher once asked the following question: "If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?" The class thought it was a pretty dumb question -- until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed.

If the fellow on top was going down, but the guy on the bottom was going up, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.

And so my friends, it doesn't really matter what your starting point is or where you are at on the ladder of religious life. As long as you are moving in the right direction, as long as you are going up, you will, please G-d, succeed in climbing the heavenly heights.

Wishing you a safe and successful journey.

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« Reply #640 on: November 20, 2012, 07:35:13 PM »

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« Reply #641 on: November 21, 2012, 08:29:45 AM »

Understanding the origins and purpose of the Five Books of Moses.

The Five Books of Moses

In Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses is called the Chumash – shorthand for Chamisha Chumshei Torah, which literally means the "five-fifths of the Torah."

And while the term "Torah" can refer to the entire body of Jewish thought, it often refers to just the Chumash.

The Chumash is also known as Pentateuch, a Greek word ("pent" means five; "teuch" means book). Bible is also a Greek word, meaning "book." The first translation of the Bible was into Greek, in the third century BCE, when Ptolemy II coerced 72 rabbis to do the translation.1 It is thus called the "Septuagint," which means "seventy."

The Chumash is called the Five Books of Moses because God dictated the entire text to Moses, who wrote it down. The five books are divided into 54 sections, and one section (called a parsha) is read every Shabbat in the synagogue. (Occasionally, two portions are read together.)

Because the Chumash is the basic book of Judaism, it is essential to have a good overall grasp of its content. This course features an illuminating essay on each of the 22 key Chumash themes, written by Rabbi Zave Rudman, an educator in Jerusalem with 25 years of experience teaching Chumash. (Rabbi Noson Weisz of Jerusalem is guest author for two of the essays, "Purpose of Creation" and "Binding of Isaac.")

In addition, each of the 22 Chumash themes features a 3-minute video presentation by Rabbi Eytan Feiner, a popular international speaker and a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.

Here are the Five Books of Moses, with a brief description, and a distributive breakdown of the syllabus for this course:

(1) The Book of Genesis (Bereishit) deals with the origin of the world, the history of the world prior to and including the forefathers of the Jewish people, and the spiritual development of the Jewish people up until the era of Egyptian slavery. Essays in this section of the course include:

    Class #2 – Purpose of Creation
    Class #3 – Garden of Eden
    Class #4 – Noah's Flood
    Class #5 – God's Covenant with Abraham
    Class #6 – Binding of Isaac
    Class #7 – Jacob-Esav Rivalry
    Class #8 – Story of Joseph

(2) The Book of Exodus (Shmot) includes the account of Jewish slavery, Moses' rise to the role of leader, the awesome events of the Exodus, and the seminal first months in the Sinai desert. Essays in this section of the course include:

    Class #9 – Moses: Prophet and Leader
    Class #10 – Ten Plagues
    Class #11 – Splitting of the Red Sea
    Class #12 – Ten Commandments
    Class #13 – Golden Calf
    Class #14 – The Tabernacle

(3) The Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) is named for the Levites, the tribe from whom the Jewish priesthood (kohanim) emerged. The Levites were responsible for assisting with the service and maintaining the Tabernacle (and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). The major topic of this book is the kohanim, descendants of Moses's brother, Aaron, who performed the actual Temple service. Jewish tradition often refers to this book as Torat Kohanim, "the laws of the priests." Essays in this section of the course include:

    Class #15 – Understanding Korbanot
    Class #16 – Holiness & Love Your Neighbor
    Class #17 – The Jewish Festivals

(4) The Book of Numbers (Bamidbar) is so called because it begins with a census of the Jewish population in the desert. In Hebrew, this book is called Bamidbar – "in the desert" – as it chronicles the bulk of the 40 years of Jewish wandering in the desert en route to the Land of Israel. Essays in this section of the course include:

    Class #18 – Sin of the Spies
    Class #19 – Korach's Rebellion
    Class #20 – The Balak-Bilam Duo

(5) The Book of Deuteronomy (Devarim) is a repetition of many concepts taught in earlier books. This book covers the final 36 days2 of Moses's life, and ends with an account of Moses's own death, as the next generation of Jews are poised to enter the Land of Israel, under the new leadership of Joshua. Essays in this section of the course include:

    Class #21 – Wars of the Jews
    Class #22 – Tochacha and Teshuva
    Class #23 – Transfer of Leadership: From Moses to Joshua

And to review:

Purpose of the Bible

Much has been written about the very purpose of the Chumash: Is it a history book, a book of ethics, or a book of laws? In fact, as the #1 best-selling book every year for the past 3,300 years, it is all this and more. Let's explain:

(1) Law Book

Perhaps most obviously, the Chumash is a book of law. The word "Torah" itself means "instructions" – i.e. it contains every important law and concept necessary for proper Jewish personal and communal life. It is said that Torah is the "constitution" of the Jewish nation. The ideals of Shabbat, tzedakah, the centrality of Israel – in fact all of the 613 mitzvot are contained within.3 Without this book, Judaism would not exist.

(2) History Book

Yet the Chumash is more than just a dry listing of the 613 mitzvot; there are dozens of stories interspersed throughout. So in one regard, the Chumash also serves as a history book, a chronology of events of the first 2,500 years of human existence.4 In many instances, the Torah takes great pains to record accurately names, places and events; entire chapters are listings of names and generations. As the verse says: "This is the book of the chronicles of mankind" (Genesis 5:1).5

(3) Book of National DNA

Yet the Chumash still omits a great many details. For example, when Abraham first appears in the Book of Genesis, he is already 75 years old.6 He is one of the most significant figures in Jewish history and yet the Torah skips over his childhood and adult years.7

So obviously, those stories that are included must have a special purpose beyond their historical value.

There is a concept called Ma'aseh Avot Siman l'Banim8 – "the deeds of the ancestors are a sign for the children." On a macro-cosmic level, events that occurred to the patriarchs and matriarchs are a model for all of Jewish history. This is why we have to pay extra special attention to what's going on at this early phase of the Bible, because here is where the patterns are set. The events in the Torah create spiritual realities – the DNA, as it were – which persist throughout Jewish history. For example, the Jacob-Esav rivalry persists until today as one of the primary sources of anti-Semitism.9 In other words, "History repeats itself." Or in theological terms, Jewish history is Jewish destiny.

(4) Book of Wisdom

Beyond this, each incident in the Torah offers invaluable insights into human behavior. The Bible is often called Torah Chaim10 – literally "Instructions for Living." We derive lessons in behavior from the stories, which help guide and direct our lives. Torah is an inexhaustible source of wisdom that teaches us how to view the world – how to have better relationships, how to achieve peace of mind, how to relate to the world at large.

And while Torah values may occasionally seem irrelevant in light of the modern world, the opposite is actually true. Although many external aspects of society have changed over time, basic human nature has not. Unlike any other self-help book, Torah is a time-tested, proven formula, benefiting from thousands of years of meticulous analysis and practice. Its lessons are timeless. For while contemporary values are of human origin and transient, those of the Torah are divine and eternal.11

(5) Kabbalah Book

There is a deeper layer to the Chumash as well. The Midrash says that "God looked into the Torah and created the world."12 Just as an architect first draws up plans, and the builder produces the physical structure, God first wrote the Torah and then created the world using the Torah as its plan.13 In other words, Torah is the cause and the world is the result. As such, if Torah would cease to exist, the world would cease as well.14

Each detail of the world exists because the Torah says so. As the Vilna Gaon15 wrote:

    The rule is that all that was, is, and will be until the end of time is included in the Torah from "Bereishit" (the first verse of Genesis) to "L'eynei kol Yisrael" (the last verse of Deuteronomy). And not merely in a general sense, but including the details of every species and of each person individually, and the most minute details of everything that happened to him from the day of his birth until his death.16

The most seemingly trivial passages and variations in the Torah text contain many secret meanings and lessons. Even as small a mark as a serif on the Hebrew letter yud, or decorative markings, were put there by God to teach scores of lessons.17

The Torah contains many coded messages as well. As the great kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Cordevaro,18 wrote:

    The secrets of our holy Torah are revealed through knowledge of combinations, numerology (gematria), switching letters, first-and-last letters, shapes of letters, first- and-last verses, skip-letters sequences, and letter combinations. These matters are powerful, hidden and enormous secrets.19

It is said that "Torah is the mind of God."20 If we want to connect with our Creator, we must understand His book.

How and When

The Torah was given at Mount Sinai in the Jewish year 2448 (numbered from creation),21 or 1313 BCE. The Torah was dictated by God to Moses – letter by letter, word by word. Moses wrote the Torah very much the same way that a scribe writes today – with pen and ink, on parchment in the form of a scroll.

Many people ask: How do we know the Torah is true. Especially given the central importance of Torah to Jewish life, it is crucial to be able to establish the veracity of the Torah as an accurate and truthful document. There are many excellent writings on this topic. For an in-depth treatment, we recommend Permission to Receive by Lawrence Keleman (, which presents four rational approaches to the Torah's divine origin. A more concise presentation is, Did God Speak at Sinai?, online at

Throughout all generations, great care was taken to preserve the Torah exactly as it was given to Moses. Since every Torah must be letter-perfect, it is forbidden to write a single letter without copying it from another Torah. Moreover, the scribe must repeat every word out loud before writing it down, so as to insure accuracy in copying.22 This procedure of writing a Torah scroll was repeated countless times throughout the ages by qualified scribes, ensuring the integrity of the Torah for over 3,300 years.

When was the Torah actually written down? Just before the revelation at Sinai, Moses wrote everything that had transpired up until that point.23 After this, God would dictate each passage, Moses would repeat it aloud, and would then write it down.24 At the end of the 40 years of wandering in the desert, after God had finished dictating the entire Torah, Moses bound them together into one scroll.25

The Torah was never written with punctuation, although its sentence structure was revealed to Moses and transmitted, along with the notes used in chanting the Torah.26

Before his death, Moses wrote out 13 Torah scrolls. Twelve of these were distributed to each of the Twelve Tribes. The thirteenth was placed in the Ark of the Covenant with the stone tablets. If anyone would come and attempt to rewrite or falsify the Torah, the one in the Ark would "testify" against him. Likewise, if he had access to the scroll in the Ark and tried to falsify it, the distributed copies would "testify" against him.27

Today we see the fruits of this system. Torah scrolls from across the planet – from Yemen to Russia, from Egypt to Australia – have proven amazingly accurate with virtually no variances.28 This gives us confidence that the Torah we have today, is the same text received at Sinai.

Oral Law

It is a foundation of Jewish belief that the entire Torah, both written and oral, was revealed to Moses by God. The Written Torah lists the commandments, and the Oral Torah explains how to carry them out. Many Jewish laws are not directly mentioned in the Torah, but are derived from textual hints, which were expanded orally. For example:

Totafot (better known as Tefillin) are mentioned in the Bible: "And you shall place totafot between your eyes."29 But how do we know what they are? What color are they? What size? Shape? What about the straps? How many compartments? What parchments go inside? How should they be worn? Who should wear them? When?

None of this is written in the Bible. For these important details, we need the Oral Torah. And there are many such cases.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch30 explains:

    The Written Torah is to the Oral Torah, just as short notes are on a full and extensive lecture on any scientific subject. For the student who has heard the whole lecture, short notes are quite sufficient to bring back afresh to his mind at any time the whole subject of the lecture. For him, a word, an added mark of interrogation or exclamation, a dot, the underlining of a word, etc. is often quite sufficient to recall to his mind a whole series of thoughts. For those who had not heard the lecture from the Master, such notes would be completely useless. If they were to try to reconstruct the scientific contents of the lecture literally from such notes they would of necessity make many errors.

Yet why do we need an Oral Torah? Why wasn't everything just written down?

Torah is not a reference work made to sit on a shelf. It is meant to be lived and internalized. The oral give-and-take, from teacher to student, encourages us to discuss and clarify, to know it backward and forward. And thousands of people learning the same information guarantees that mistakes do not enter the transmission.

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Romans captured Jerusalem and sent the Jews into exile. The president of the Jewish people, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, saw that the teacher-student framework was in danger of being disrupted, so he wrote down the Oral Torah – the Mishnah – to avoid it being forgotten.31

As the generations passed, more information – the Talmud – was written down to explain the Mishnah. Today, the basic laws are published in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) and its accompanying commentaries. But much of Torah is still preserved in oral form, passed from teacher to student.

God, in His infinite wisdom, devised the consummate system for transmitting Torah throughout the generations. It is not a written law, and it is not an oral law. It is both.

English Translations

Hebrew is a very special language. It is the language that God spoke when creating the world.32 As the national language of the Jewish people, it best captures the meanings of Jewish life, concepts and prayers. And of course, Hebrew is the original language of the Torah.

When the Torah is translated into other languages, it loses much of its essence. For instance, the familiar King James translation often diverges from Jewish teachings. Furthermore, our Sages teach that "every day the Torah should be as new."33 This can also means that archaic language should not be used in translations, because this would give the impression that the Torah is old, not new.

Although many "modern" translations are more readable, they are often even more divorced from traditional Judaic sources. They may ignore the Talmud and Midrash, which contain the tradition for how to translate the idiomatic language of the Torah.

Two modern translations are "Jewishly accurate" and highly recommended:

    ArtScroll Stone Chumash (
    The Living Torah, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (

Of course, there is no substitute for learning the original Hebrew text. Hebrew, as God's holy language, has an enormous amount of subtlety that no translation can ever convey. For example, the Hebrew word for "human" is adam. The name itself is derived from the word adama, meaning "ground," from which the first person was created.34 It is also a composite of the word dam, which means blood, and the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph, which always alludes to God.35 This teaches us that a human being is a composite of physical matter and a spiritual soul.

So while it is important to have a good translation on hand, it is equally important to make an effort to study Torah in its original language.

And now... on with the 22 key Chumash themes!

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« Reply #642 on: November 21, 2012, 10:57:00 AM »

My education continues, though tis like drinking from a fire hose.
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« Reply #643 on: November 22, 2012, 12:50:40 PM »

Happy Thanksgiving! 

If a student feels like theay  are drinking water from a fire house it is generally a sign of a poor teacher.  Are you interested in more of that series?  I have usually been skipping the more in depth commentary but you  and others had been very interested in the  Rabbi Sacks commentary which tends to be more in depth.

Among other things I am grateful that I  or anyone else wasn't  injured in a impressive  Pryex explosion/shattering . I heated it on a burner instead of the tea kettle.    I'm also grateful that  when I screw up my husbands only comment is generally  I'm glad  you weren't hurt and then he  helps me clean up the mess.

The Blind Woman at the Gym
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund
Learning how to see.

I already had my earphones on, and I was about to step on the treadmill in the gym when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I turned around to see an older woman with sunglasses and a walking stick standing before me.

"Can you help me onto the machine?" she asked. I helped her set up her walking stick beside the elliptical machine, and she smiled warmly. "Such sweet women in this gym,” she remarked. “It's so nice to be around all these lovely people every morning."

The woman felt around for the handles of the machine and steadied her feet on the foot pedals. Then she thanked me and faced towards the picture window, moving slowly but steadily. I stared at the stunning orange, red and yellow leaves swirling from the trees and then I looked around me, at the dozens of women exercising. I realized that I hadn't really noticed any of them before. I was always rushing in and out of the gym, constantly late for something. But this blind woman beside me noticed them. She senses people’s movements in a way I am not attuned to. She hears kindness in voices that I don't even hear, as I block out any sound with my own music.

It reminded me of something a professor said when describing the loneliness most addicts feel when the object of their addiction replaces their social relationships. "For most addicts, everyone else is traffic." When an addict begins to spiral downwards, each person in his life becomes merely an obstacle to his goal of using. Connecting with others begins to feel like a waste of time. Relationships start to "get in the way" of what he wants. The addict travels down his futile road with great impatience, searching for instant gratification and wishing he could make anyone or anything in his path just disappear.

I drove home from class that day thinking about the professor’s statement as my car crawled along the highway. I thought about it as I stood on line at the grocery store waiting interminably. And it struck me – it's not just addicts, but so many of us view everyone else as traffic too.

The blind woman in the gym didn't have this problem. To her, everyone was a blessing and a hand to hold. And when I stood later that day on line at the supermarket, I kept reminding myself to try to see things the way the blind woman did.

Ironically, a customer at the front of the line was having trouble opening her pocketbook, and when she finally got it open, all her coupons spilled onto the floor. There was a collective sigh from the people on line. One guy talking on his phone said loud enough for all of us to hear, "Great, this is just what I need right now."

An older man who was standing in front of him spun around and asked, "Where are you rushing to? What is so important that you can't wait two extra minutes for someone to find her coupons? Why don't you help her instead?"

The man with the phone looked stunned for a minute, and then he went over to help the woman pick up her coupons while the rest of us stood frozen in place. "I just don't understand people today,” the elderly man shook his head and mumbled. “It's like no one can look up from their phone for even a second, everyone else is in the way."

Unpacking the groceries in the kitchen that day, I thought about another elderly man who had taught my husband and me a similar lesson when we first moved to Israel. We were going to buy a couch, and we were in a rush. Someone had recommended a tiny store that had good quality furniture. My husband met me there after shul one morning. We entered the store and the salesman greeted us, staring at my husband's tefillin bag.

"Is that tefillin?"

My husband nodded.

"My grandfather wore tefillin. But I haven't worn tefillin since my bar mitzvah," he sighed. We stood there, not really knowing what to say. Somehow, "Can you show us which couches you carry in white leather?" didn't seem like the right question at the time.

"Do you want to put them on?" my husband asked.

The older, Sephardi man's eyes lit up. "But I don't know what to say, and I don't have a kippah."

Then he suddenly had an idea; he grabbed a piece of cloth from the desk and put it on his head.

"Show me what to say!"

My husband taught him how to put on the tefillin and showed him where the Shema was in his siddur. I needed to go because I was almost late for class. I gave up on the couch and left my husband there, teaching a man with a couch cloth on his head how to pray. I stood at the window for a moment watching my husband find another page in the siddur and thinking that we almost missed out. If I would have asked to see the couches...If my husband hadn't offered his tefillin...If we hadn't sensed the salesman’s special, yearning soul...If we would have instead seen him as being in our way, taking up our time, just traffic, we would have lost a precious opportunity to give.

I look forward to seeing the blind woman in the mornings at the gym. She teaches me to see and hear. She teaches me to look around and reach out my hand to help, before I turn on the day's treadmill.

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« Reply #644 on: November 26, 2012, 10:18:50 AM »

Civilian Casualties
by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Jews and the ethics of war.

Attacked by a barrage of rockets from Gaza that killed several, injured many and terrorized millions, Israel responded with airstrikes against military targets in Gaza. Radar guided missiles attacked terror cells, rockets launchers, bomb factories and Hamas government installations.1

The difference between the terrorist attacks and the Israeli retaliation is that the terrorists deliberately aimed for civilian centers seeking to kill innocent people whereas Israeli planes dropped leaflets encouraging residents to vacate the area of their intended targets. The terrorists seek out innocents, Israel works to save them, but every so often a target is missed and an innocent civilian is killed.

The death of an innocent is tragic. The heart trembles at the sight of little children, bodies broken and lives snuffed out. The Israeli military doesn’t target women and children, but their death is an inescapable consequence of military action. There is no way to ensure the safety of civilians when the theater of war is a crowded city. Surely responsibility lies with the enemy who fights from behind cradle and skirt, but the question remains, is it ethical for an army to pursue a war in the presence of an innocent population?

Our hearts demand that we stop such wars, but our heads tell us that withdrawal would enable the terrorists to terrorize with impunity. We are torn between duty and empathy, compassion for our children and compassion for the enemies’ children. What to do?

Fear and Concern

We are not the first to worry about casualties in war. When Jacob was informed that Esau had raised an army and was marching against him, he feared and he worried. Our sages explained that he feared for his own life, but he worried about being forced into a war that would require him to take another’s life.2

Rabbinical commentary on this explanation abounds, but most agree that Jacob was not concerned with taking Esau’s life. Esau had forfeited his right to life by marching against his brother. Talmudic law is clear on this point, if someone rises against you, rise up and kill him first. If you threaten the life of another you forfeit your own right to life. Jacob was concerned about collateral damage. He worried that others might be killed in the heat of battle.3

That he worried tells us that our heritage bleeds for the loss of innocent life. That this concern did not deter him from preparing for war tells us that notwithstanding the horror of civilian casualties we must take up arms when war is foisted upon us. Otherwise, our own children are at risk.

This is not to say that enemy civilians are fair game in war. Those who don’t offer the enemy aid and succor are not our enemies and we must make every effort to spare them, but there is no religious or legal statute in the world that prohibits military activity likely to result in unintended, unavoidable and unforeseeable civilian casualties. That would render every war effort including defensive ones obsolete.4

In peacetime, the causation of collateral damage is a murderous and prosecutable offense. For example, we have peacetime license to kill those who pursue us with deadly intent, but we have no license to cause collateral damage by killing the innocent human shields behind whom the pursuer ducks.5 But wartime conditions are different; they don’t allow for peacetime luxury. If war could only be prosecuted with guarantees against civilian casualties, no country would be able to defend itself in time of war and all aggression would de facto be rewarded. The laws of war are not derived from the peacetime law of the pursuer, which is why Jacob went to war despite his vehement distaste.6

Grieving for Enemy Combatants

Abraham, whose heart melted with love at the sight of a stranger, went to war against a coalition of four countries to save his nephew Lot. When he returned from the war God appeared to him and said, “Fear not Abraham, I shall protect you, your reward is exceedingly great.” Our sages taught that Abraham feared that he had forfeited his virtue by prosecuting the war. He knew he was right to save Lot, but was he right to save him at the expense of human life?7

Abraham took this even further than Jacob. Jacob was only worried about killing innocent bystanders, Abraham worried about killing the enemy’s soldiers and God had to comfort and reassure him. Those whom you killed, God said, deserved to be killed. They forfeited their lives when they took up arms against Lot.8 As our sages put it, they are thorns in the king’s garden, the king would have hired laborers to weed out the thorns, now that you did it for him, you need not worry. On the contrary, your reward is exceedingly great for you saved the victim from their abusers.

Abraham was the first Jew to take up arms in a just cause. It broke his heart to do so and when he returned from war he mourned the loss of his innocence. He was devastated by what his enemies had made of him.

Today, the Vatican seeks to teach us moral values by admonishing Israel for killing babies.9 Cardinal Ravasi ought to remember who he is talking to. Jews are the people of the book, who taught the world about sanctity of life. To the Jew, every life is precious, even the lives of our enemies.

Jews don’t perpetuate war because life holds no value. Jews perpetuate war precisely because life has value and must be protected. When war is foisted on us, we cry every time our enemies make killers of us. Abraham was devastated by the death of his enemy. Jacob worried about killing innocents. Yet, when war was foisted upon them, they sprang into action without hesitation. God endorsed their actions even as He understood their concerns. “Fear not Abraham, I shall be your shield.”

We too tremble when life is lost on either side of war. Sadly, Jews know grief better than any other nation; we know what it means to lose a loved one. It is not for lack of love that we undertake war, but in spite of love. War is not pursued with intent to kill, but with intent to save. We don’t undertake war to kill innocents or even combatants. We undertake war to reduce bloodshed on all sides.

On November 21, 2012, Egypt and the US brokered a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas after eight days of hostilities.
Genesis 32:8 as elucidated in Bereshit Rabbah 76:7 and quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the verse.
See Sifsei Chachamim, Maskil Ledavid and Gur Aryeh ad loc.
Contemporary Halachic Problems III, Rabbi J. David Bleich, p.277.
This, with the caveat, that the human shield is not a willng accomplice. See Amud Hayemini, Rabbi Shaul Israeli, 16:3-4.
Another difference is that though bystanders are required to kill the pursuer in peacetime they cannot be compelled to risk their lives in the act. In war however, countries have the right to draft young men and women and force them to risk their lives against their will.
Genesis 15:1 elucidated in Yalkut Shimoni Lech Lecha 16 and quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the verse.
See commentary of R. Ovadya Seforno and R. Meyer Malbim ad loc. See Gur Aryeh for a slightly different angle.
On November 21, 2012, Cardinal Ravasi, president of the Vatican Council for Culture, condemned Israel for Killing Babies.
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« Reply #645 on: November 29, 2012, 09:23:03 PM »

Mother, Look at us Now!
Learning to live with a critical parentLearning to live with a critical parent
By Gayle Kirschenbaum

Editor’s Note: This article was written with permission from the author’s mother, for the purpose of helping others . . .

I felt like I was born into enemy territory. I was convinced that you have a daughter to have a slave.

All I wanted was out, out of her way, out of my house, away from the constant barrage of criticism and orders and demands. Since I was too young and too afraid to run away, the only place I could be away from her was in my room. I sat and drew and wrote in my journal, and often cried. My room was the only room in the house where I felt safe. But it wasn’t long before even my room was no longer a safe haven.

I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. All I had done was be born, born a female with thick curly hair who apparently did not make a splash for cuteness. “You were supposed to be Gary,” I heard several times while growing up. But I wasn’t Gary. I came out a girl, not a boy.

From the first moment I can remember, there was little that was right about me. My hair was too wild, and my nose was too big. Everything about me needed fixing, including my personality.

Something was wrong. I knew something was deeply wrong.

By the end of my sixteenth year, I managed to get out of my house. I graduated early from high school and went away to university. Being 200 miles away and not living subject to constant criticism, I was finally finding joy in life and building my self-confidence. Still, my mother’s attitude did not change, and I was burdened with anger and resentment towards her. I was deeply wounded, and had an incessant fear of intimacy and abandonment. All I wanted was to be loved, but I found myself subconsciously sabotaging relationships, feeling undeserving of long-lasting love. I knew that I needed to resolve my relationship with my mother in order to move on.

In time, and with years of work, I was able to transform our relationship from Mommie Dearest (the Joan Crawford story) to Dear Mom, from hatred to love. After making a short humorous film called My Nose about my mother’s campaign to get me to have a nose job, I learned I was not alone. People would come over to me after the screening and tell me three things: 1. I love your nose; don’t touch it. 2. I don’t like your mother. How can you? 3. Let me tell you my story. I would listen to them carefully and, interestingly, would find myself in a position to help others.

All I wanted was to be loved, but I found myself subconsciously sabotaging relationshipsHow did I do it? How did I learn to accept, and even love, my critical parent?

I identified seven steps, what I call the “Seven Healing Tools,” which enabled me to deal with a difficult person. I apply these tools to my mother, and to any and all difficult people I come in contact with.

Where is her negativity coming from? What happened to her in her childhood?

I was able to uncover family secrets, including attempted suicides and financial hardships that my mother suffered as a child. By doing so, I had a better appreciation of why she did some of the things she did.
Create Distance

Lessen the pain of being around someone who is abusive to you by physically removing yourself from his or her location.

I went off to college, creating a distance between myself and the barrage of criticism.
Create a Support System

A support system consisting of friends, family and/or coworkers is invaluable. You can’t choose your family, but you can certainly choose your friends.

I surrounded myself with positive and supportive people. In college, I gravitated towards many like-minded people. I was an art student, and was praised by my teachers and colleagues for my talent and my appearance. They loved my long, thick curly hair. I followed my passions, developed hobbies, joined various groups, went on a spiritual quest, and found a rabbi with whom I connected and joined his congregation. I also found a close friend who became my life coach. I rescued a little dog, who went on to become my canine best friend, therapy dog and healer. We even made a movie together.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It means unburdening yourself of dead emotional weightForgiving does not mean forgetting. It means unburdening yourself of dead emotional weight. “When you forgive, you love. And when you love, G-d’s light shines upon you.” (Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild)

After learning about my mother’s childhood tragedies and the burdens she had to bear, I realized that she was doing the best she could. Expecting her to love and nurture me unconditionally at that time was like asking Stevie Wonder to drive a racecar. She was incapable. She was a wounded child. As soon as I changed my expectations of her, I was able to forgive her.

Do not wait for the individual to acknowledge or apologize for what they did to you before you forgive them. In many cases like my own, they won’t do either, and they will deny ever doing anything wrong. Remember, they are a wounded child and are unaware of their own actions.
Change Your Behavior

Armed with understanding, physically removed from the source of conflict and having forgiven the individual for his or her offenses, you are now well positioned to begin to change your behavior—to begin reacting to the world in newer, healthier ways.

In my case, now that I had forgiven my mother and viewed her as a wounded child, I was able to change my responses to her disparaging remarks and actions. If your child said to you, “Mommy, I don’t love you,” you wouldn’t cringe and feel hurt; you would laugh it off. That is what I started doing with my mother. Every time she would say something insulting, instead of getting hurt, angry and defensive, I let it bounce off of me, always remembering the source. Many times, I made light of it. By doing this, I reduced her ability to press my buttons, and in essence rendered her powerless. And I was able to give her the love you would give a child who has hurt him- or herself.
Let It Out

I viewed her as a wounded childThere is no value in keeping it in, tamping down your feelings. You are not alone. Many people have suffered greatly.

In my case, I found confidants, the right people to share with. I was selective about the people with whom I chose to share. I found people who are positive, sympathetic and empathetic, and who in some cases could even offer insight. I shared my pain; I shared secrets, because keeping them in and holding onto them can often make us feel ashamed and like a victim. I learned to live life with openness and honesty.
Spin a Negative into a Positive; Be Creative

This is your life. This is your story. We all have incredible material. No one can steal your story. Use it. My life has been the inspiration for my creative work, whether it’s writing, visual art or film. They always say, “Write what you know best.” You will not only entertain others, but also often help them. And there is no greater satisfaction than giving to others.

As my life progressed along with my career, I, like all of us, have been and continue to be faced with difficult people. I have always managed to apply the tools I developed to deal with my mother to situations with others.

Judaism teaches us the concept that every descent is for the sake of an ascent. Difficult people present us with an opportunity to grow. I live life with gratitude. If it weren’t for my emotionally challenging childhood, I probably would not have learned what I know today, or be in a position to help guide others. I wake up every day and thank the Creator for giving me all that I have. I thank Him for showing me that when I am faced with an obstacle, it is no accident, and there is a lesson for me to learn from it.
by Gayle Kirschenbaum
Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, personality and speaker. Called “the Nora Ephron of documentaries,” Gayle has turned the camera on herself. In her humorous film, My Nose, we follow her mother’s relentless campaign to get her to have a nose job. She created and executive produced several “little people” shows for TLC and Discovery Health. Gayle is currently in post-production on a feature documentary called Look at Us Now, Mother! where she explores the highly charged mother/daughter relationship through her own story.

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« Reply #646 on: December 04, 2012, 05:57:29 PM »

The Refusal to be Comforted   Kislev 20, 5773 • December 4, 2012
By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The deception has taken place. Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Is this your son’s robe or not?” Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We then read:

Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son for a long time. His sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.”1

Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted? There are laws in Judaism about the limits of grief—shivah, sheloshim, a year. There is no such thing as a bereave¬ment for which grief is endless. The Gemara says that G d says to one who weeps beyond the appointed time, “You are not more compassionate than I.”2

A midrash gives a remarkable answer. “One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living.” Jacob refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Joseph was still alive. That, tragically, is the fate of those who have lost members of their family (the parents of soldiers missing in action, for example), but have as yet no proof that they are dead. They cannot go through the normal stages of mourning, because they cannot abandon the possibility that the missing person is still capable of being rescued. Their continuing anguish is a form of loyalty; to give up, to mourn, to be reconciled to loss is a kind of betrayal. In such cases, grief lacks closure. To refuse to be comforted is to refuse to give up hope.

On what basis did Jacob continue to hope? Surely he had recognized Joseph’s bloodstained coat and said explicitly, “A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces”? Do these words not mean that he had accepted that Joseph was dead?

The late David Daube made a suggestion that I find convincing. The words the sons say to Jacob—haker na, “do you recognize this?”—have a quasi-legal connotation. Daube relates this passage to another, with which it has close linguistic parallels:

If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping, and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the L rd that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property . . . If it [the animal] was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring the remains as evidence, and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.3

The issue at stake is the extent of responsibility borne by a guardian (shomer). If the animal is lost through negligence, the guardian is at fault and must make good the loss. If there is no negligence, merely force majeure—an unavoidable, unforeseeable accident—the guardian is exempt from blame. One such case is where the loss has been caused by a wild animal. The wording in the law—tarof yitaref, “torn to pieces”—exactly parallels Jacob’s judgment in the case of Joseph: tarof toraf Yosef, “Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We know that some such law existed prior to the giving of the Torah. Jacob himself says to Laban, whose flocks and herds have been placed in his charge, “I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself.”4 This implies that guardians even then were exempt from responsibility for the damage caused by wild animals. We also know that an elder brother carried a similar responsibility for the fate of a younger brother placed in his charge (i.e., when the two were alone together). That is the significance of Cain’s denial when confronted by G d as to the fate of Abel: “Am I my brother’s guardian [shomer]?”

We now understand a series of nuances in the encounter between Jacob and his sons, when they return without Joseph. Normally they would be held responsible for their younger brother’s disappearance. To avoid this, as in the case of later biblical law, they “bring the remains as evidence.” If those remains show signs of an attack by a wild animal, they must—by virtue of the law then operative—be held innocent. Their request to Jacob, haker na, must be construed as a legal request, meaning, “Examine the evidence.” Jacob has no alternative but to do so, and in virtue of what he has seen, to acquit them. A judge, however, may be forced to acquit someone accused of the crime because the evidence is insufficient to justify a conviction, yet he may hold lingering private doubts. So Jacob was forced to find his sons innocent, without necessarily believing what they said. Jacob did not believe it, and his refusal to be comforted shows that he was unconvinced. He continued to hope that Joseph was still alive. That hope was eventually justified. Joseph was still alive, and eventually father and son were reunited.

The refusal to be comforted sounded more than once in Jewish history. The prophet Jeremiah heard it in a later age:

This is what the L rd says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
Mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
And refusing to be comforted,
Because her children are no more.”
This is what the L rd says:
“Restrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears,
For your work will be rewarded,” says the L rd.
“They will return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your future,” declares the L rd,
“Your children will return to their own land.”5

Why was Jeremiah sure that Jews would return? Because they refused to be comforted—meaning, they refused to give up hope.
So it was during the Babylonian exile, in one of the great expressions of all time of the refusal to be comforted:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept,
As we remembered Zion . . .
How can we sing the songs of the L rd in a strange land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget [its skill],
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.6

It is said that Napoleon, passing a synagogue on Tisha B’Av, heard the sounds of lamentation. “What are the Jews crying for?” he asked one of his officers. “For Jerusalem,” he replied. “How long ago did they lose it?” “More than 1,700 years ago.” “A people who can mourn for Jerusalem so long, will one day have it restored to them,” he is reputed to have replied.

Jews are the people who refused to be comforted, because they never gave up hope. Jacob did eventually see Joseph again. Rachel’s children did return to the land. Jerusalem is once again the Jewish home. All the evidence may suggest otherwise: it may seem to signify irretrievable loss, a decree of history that cannot be overturned, a fate that must be accepted. Jews never believed the evidence, because they had something else to set against it—a faith, a trust, an unbreakable hope that proved stronger than historical inevitability. It is not too much to say that Jewish survival was sustained in that hope. Where did it come from? From a simple—or perhaps not so simple—phrase in the life of Jacob. He refused to be comforted. And so—while we live in a world still scarred by violence, poverty and injustice—must we.


Genesis 37:34–35.
Talmud, Moed Katan 27b.
Exodus 22:10–13.
Genesis 31:39.
Jeremiah 31:15–17.
Psalm 137:1–6.

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« Reply #647 on: December 10, 2012, 09:14:41 AM »

Finding G-d at West Point
In 1974, Rabbi Asher Wade, a U.S. Army chaplain in West Point, befriended a Jewish officer named Stuart. Stuart did not strike him as being a religious man, and so Rabbi Wade was surprised one day to see him wearing a yarmulke (skullcap). When Rabbi Wade asked him about his unconventional attire, Stuart related the following story:

As part of his first-year studies, Stuart enrolled in a course called “History of Military Tactics and Field Strategies,” taught by a three-star lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in military strategy. The course surveyed major battles throughout history, down to the most recent wars of our modern era.

During the final two weeks of the course, Cadet Stuart raised his hand with a question: “Why did we not survey any of the battles fought by the Jews, either of ancient times (e.g., the Roman-Jewish wars) or of modern times (the Arab-Israeli wars)?”

“The normally friendly general snapped back with an order for me to see him in his office after class,” remembered Stuart.

When Stuart arrived, the general began his explanation. “Do not think that the staff here at West Point has left the Jewish wars unnoticed,” he said. “We have examined and analyzed them in great detail. We do not teach them at West Point because, according to military strategy and textbook tactics, the Jews should have lost them. You Jews should have been swept into the dustbin of history long ago. But you were not. You won those wars against all odds and against all military logic.

“This past year, we hired a new junior instructor,” the general continued. “During a private staff meeting, the Arab-Israeli wars came under discussion. As we puzzled over how the Israelis could possibly have won those wars, suddenly this junior instructor chirps up and jokingly says, ‘Honorable gentlemen, it seems to be quite obvious how they are winning their wars: G‑d is winning their wars!’

“Nobody laughed,” said the general. “The reason is, soldier, that it seems to be an unspoken rule around here at West Point that G‑d is winning your wars, but G‑d does not fit into military textbooks! You are dismissed.”

“I left the general’s office in a daze,” continued Stuart. “Wouldn’t you know it, I said to myself, I had to come to West Point to find out how great my G‑d is from a non-practicing Presbyterian three-star general . . .

“I went back to my dorm room, and dug down in my sock drawer to find that ‘flap of cloth’ that I threw on my head once a year on Yom Kippur. I said to myself: This thing is going on my head, because I found, in essence, who I am and where I come from.”

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« Last Edit: December 10, 2012, 09:24:04 AM by Rachel » Logged
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« Reply #648 on: December 10, 2012, 09:21:07 AM »

May love and light fill your home and heart at Hanukkah. Happy Hanukkah!

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« Reply #649 on: December 10, 2012, 10:01:21 AM »

Love that West Point story.
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